Preached at Trinity-at-Waiake, 21 March 1996

The Pulse of the Universe

Powerful Mandelbrot Generator

The Pulse of the Universe

Harvest represents thankfulness.

Harvest represents thankfulness. It is a time in the Church’s life when deep appreciation for all life’s gifts is symbolised by gathering the flowers and fruit and grain and produce and even reference to arts and crafts.

 It is also a time in personal life when one can reflect on the harvest of the heart and the mind. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote it was like a dream, back then so long ago. There was much weeping, but now there is joy. In exile, as refugees, nothing was right. But now, now all is possible.

 This idea of the joy of harvest is also there in the ancient creed of Deuteronomy. As it says, My father was a wandering Aramean, a homeless refugee. But from such humble beginnings when food and existence was precarious, now there is an abundance, a land flowing with milk and honey.

 Even more than these ancient declarations of grateful remembrance, it seems to me that the parable of the sower has powerful relevance. One might apply it in numerous ways. But the outcome is always thus: a great harvest is only possible when the seeds are sown liberally. To sow a pinch of seeds in a huge field will result only in a huge field of weeds. The seeds must be scattered everywhere even into the unexpected places. Sow, sow, sow everywhere and results will be reaped.

 I have begun to wonder whether in fact we are living in an age where there has been a remarkable sowing of ideas, that has been going on for perhaps 150 or more years, but we are not yet close to the harvest.

 There have been such times in the past. Exciting movements in human history have sprung up. The ancient society that sprang up on the islands of Greece took some centuries to develop from Pythagoras to Plato and Aristotle. In that time there were remarkable new thoughts. They sowed seeds in the intellect that have made a themepark of the world ever since.

 The same is true in Judaism. In roughly the same period there was movement of the heart from the wandering Aremean refugee to the prophets who point to the creation of a just society based upon compassion.

 But look further on the world stage in this period and the remarkable Buddha appears providing a force and direction within ancient Hindu philosophy. India was forever changed, and moved in Buddhist thought to the practice of compassion. And in Persia Zoroaster appears with the same message.

 From the sixth century BCE to the first is a remarkable period in the world’s history. Remarkably similar ideals are sowed liberally in all sorts of unexpected places. And in a sense it prepares the ground for Jesus of Nazareth who sees the divine purpose worked out in not just his thought but his living.

 Looking back through the lens of history we see the sweep of ideas, people and events clearly. But here in our own time we cannot see like that at all. We are in the midst of a vast field of growth, not all of which will be fit for the harvest. We don’t have the perspective to see God in the broad sweep of today’s world. But future generations will see it. Harvest is a timely reminder to look back with gratitude.

 A second and deeper level of significance in the harvest is in the nature of life itself. The pulse of life defies my ability to describe but I think it is real and accessible to observation by all. Every living thing, whether in the plant kingdom or animal kingdom breathes. There is an inhalation and an exhalation. The entire planet breathes as well. The harvest is that part of the cycle of the seasons which is the consequence of the pulse of life, the rhythm, the breathe.

Heart beat of the planet  

I recall telling not so long ago about this marvellous pulse or heart beat of the planet where across the world every fourteen days plants change in response to the lunar and planetary influences. I don’t mean astrological influences, I mean measurable hard data, good hard science if involving tiny microscopic changes.

In the dead of winter when the great deciduous trees have lost all their leaves and everything is cold and frozen, on the 14th day of the cycle the lambda values of bud size measurement - to do with specific changes - track from positive to negative, and the buds begin to swell as if to say its time, and then the contract again as if to realise its not yet time. This dance of the buds is across species and families and is like the a pulse throughout nature at specific times. And in the summer hemisphere the cycles are reversed and the earth has breathed out in a riot of colour and form and the spectacle of all nature in its glory.

As Lawrence Edwards tells us (The Vortex of Life, Floris Books) it is a mystery to compare the plant realm to the human realm, for each is the inversion of the other. The plants derive their nourishment from below drawing up and the human from above digesting down. In the human the reproductive organs point down but in the plant world they open upward. In the human is the red blood, in the plant green sap. Red and green are complementary colours opposite on the colour wheel.

Even the chemistry is backwards. We exhale CO2, the plants inhale it, and vice versa for oxygen. We harvest the plants but they harvest us just as surely.

Draw a picture of a bronchia and lungs and show it to young children and they will immediately recognise it saying its a tree, but then ask why is it upsidedown.

 What nourishes the human kills the plant, what kills the human nourishes the plant. However, what is common to both is this pulse, this breath, this right time for the harvest. The harvest then signifies life at the right time and in the right context, that is interdependent.

The Fractal World Recapitulates Harvest

There is a word in mathematics today which also symbolises this. It is the word fractal. In fractal geometry there are emergent patterns so that if you take a fractal and cut it into a billion billionth of a piece the tiny world will emerge and repeat the pattern as surely as the larger universe from which it was cut. The patterns replicate at every level.

 The whole universe is fractal. The patterns in the heavens above us are repeated in the ground beneath our feet. The patterns within us are repeated in the world without. Our inner world and the outer world repeat the same patterns. The universe is fractal in time, it is fractal in our soul, the pattern of the seasons is the pattern of our whole life; the universe is fractal in terms of our faith: as it was with Christ so it will be with us. It is the risen Christ’s universe, the harvest of any part of which is a harvest of himself. Harvest reminds us radically of Christ’s universe: as above so below, as within so without.

Well, that is a most mysterious almost mystical concept and one which I have great difficulty intellectually understanding. So let us turn to a final point about the symbolism of harvest which I find allusions to in Canon Peter Spink. There is a link between what we experience as the harvest which is life and three Christian irreducible concepts. The first is integrity: only in the sowing and tending and growing and harvesting of a life well lived can integrity come to full fruition.

As he says, it is a simple but profound philosophy by which Christians live: against natural inclinations they put the interests of others first and then find in the doing of it is far more natural than was ever believed. It becomes not second nature but nature itself. In direct link then, you are like the harvest: your life in Christ makes you as attractive in personality as the beauty of the apples we behold in our eye.

A second factor is Christian faith. In its practice its becomes its own harvest. It can look on storms and is not shaken. It can move mountains against all the odds. It sees potential and possibility and uncovers human wrapping to reveal a unity about human nature that is illuminated by the light of Christ. In the simple terms of harvest, we are all alike the sowers, the people who tend the crop and we are all alike the harvest of Christ’s love.

Thirdly and finally, the harvest is about wisdom. There is the wisdom to understand our radical dependence upon time and upon factors utterly beyond our control. Through such as these we learn that what lies behind it all, what overrides it all, what is the ground of it all is God.

 Such people shaped by integrity, faith and wisdom will find joy in the harvest of their lives for they will have found God.

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