Beating the bounds

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I’ve been Episcopal most my life, but only discovered “Rogation Days” a few weeks ago.

“Is that another one of those secret Episcopal things that everyone seems to know but me?” I asked my Sunday School teacher. I can be snarky with him, because he’s my husband. I gave him an example. “Like at the 8 o’clock service when everyone starts saying ‘All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own….’ I mumble along because it’s not in the bulletin.”

“‘…have we given thee.’ It’s in the Offertory Sentences,” he explained, patient as always, pointing out the page in the Book of Common Prayer.

“Oh, the italics.” That’s what I call those stage directions he calls rubrics. That’s the thing about the BCP – if I don’t read the small print and stuff at the back – just let it fall open to the well-worn pages at Rite II in the middle – I miss so much.

So it turns out Rogation Days are three days that precede the day the resurrected Christ ascends to Heaven. The Latin root rogatio means “to ask.” On Rogation Days people fast, pray and ask God for a good harvest and protection against disaster.

In old and even modern times, my husband explained, the priest and parishioners “beat the bounds” – walk the boundaries of the parish while reciting psalms and prayers for protection and blessings. They beat the ground with sticks as a visual reminder. And a parish is more than just the church yard – it includes the homes and property of everyone in the community.

On Rogation Sunday our supply priest (while our regular priest is on sabbatical) “beat the bounds” inside the sanctuary at the 11 o’clock service. She stood among us with a leafy tree branch in hand. We stood in the pews, and as we turned to face North, then East, then West, then South, she prayed and beat the air with the branch.

A few days later, I was talking with a woman who was concerned with the drought affecting her farm. I explained Rogation Days and “beating the bounds” to ask for protection and a good harvest. A homeschooler, she was intrigued by the Latin root of the word. She said she was going to go home and pray to the four directions of her family’s land.

I’m a writer. How does rogation apply to me? Well, the BCP has widened the scope to pray “for commerce and industry” as well as “for stewardship of creation.” So I took a pen and beat the bounds of my work area. I asked God to bless my creative labors this summer; for protection over my laptop from hacking or power surges or the dreaded blue screen of death; for a bountiful harvest of words. I prayed for encouragement over rejections from editors and direction in rewriting so that I can find meaningful homes for my poems and stories. This is what I prayed:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with thy people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 208)

I invite you to “beat the bounds” in your own endeavors. And if you’re local to North Carolina, join me every Tuesday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 am this summer of 2019. I will be at the Harrison Center for Active Aging, 611 W Noble Street, in Selma, NC. These are free Creative Connections art studio times, facilitated by Judy Boyette, president of the Johnston County Arts Council. Everyone’s working on their own projects. I’ll be working on black out and erasure poetry and mandala painting as a meditative writer’s prompt.  Teens and older are encouraged to bring their own materials and project ideas and move them forward with us!

summer writing projects


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