A Bounty of Goodness: September’s Season of Gleaning, Gathering In And Letting Go

Autumn, season of earth’s maturing…asks
that we prepare for the future—that we be wise
in the ways of garnering and letting go.
                              Bonaro W. Overstreet (1947)

As the daylight hours decrease and the air turns crisp, we’re reminded that it will soon be too cool to take leisurely strolls through our ordinary Edens, although I’m sure the original Paradise had four seasons!  Searching the back of the closet to unearth the scarf we bought on sale late last winter, we suddenly fast-forward to a few weeks from now, coat wrapped tightly around us, face muffled against the elements, already grumbling about winter.  In thirty seconds we’ve already tossed away the gift of these gorgeous autumn days without opening it.  Probably because Life’s true gifts always arrive at our door wrapped in brown paper and string.  

“Nature has been for me, for as long as I can remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure and delight: a home, a teacher, a companion,” Lorraine Anderson writes in Sisters of the Earth.  Finally, so it is for me, which is funny considering that I spent my teenage years trying to run away from a small rural New England town, and then when I could run anywhere in the world, I chose to settle for over a decade in an even smaller English hamlet because of my love for an ancient stone cottage, an apple tree and the miraculous turning of the year.

If you’re familiar with my work you know that the sixth Simple Abundance saving grace is “Joy” and that on the Simple Abundance path of Gratitude we are urged to be willing to let go of struggle in order to learn some of our life lessons through joy. I must confess that in the last few years, I’ve often wondered who in the world wrote this pink book, for when I take my backwards glance, if I’m honest, while the easiest spiritual lessons for me have been happy ones of delight, wonder and utter amazement, they’ve been too few and far between the ones learned on my knees and damp pillow. But I’m not alone.  Poets, philosophers, mystics and saints have been pointing the way towards joy for centuries, in spite of their own human disappointments. 

“I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering,” the glorious American poet and fourth Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress, Louise Bogan (1897-1970) insisted. “Surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy.”  And even in the depth of loss, anger and profound grief, the great Christian writer, C.S. Lewis titled his memoir of the soul’s longest dark night “Surprised by Joy” after the death of his new wife, wed late in his life.

One of my personal joys is collecting out-of-print country journals, especially from the twenties through fifties,  that track the seasons of our lives through observing Mother Nature’s and Mother Plenty’s journey through the year.  Today, when the Divine rhythm of life has been completely obscured by technology’s seasons of Silicon Valley, (although people have been complaining about “newfangled” since before the 19th century’s Industrial Revolution), I’m so grateful to have lived in the English back of the beyond where work began when the sun rose and finished towards the end of the afternoon, bookended by a pots of tea and other women’s thoughts on paper.   There was no more comforting ritual for me than coming home to the kitchen at day’s end, to the aroma of something delicious, slowly cooking in the Aga, then drawing the curtains and turning on the soft small lights. “Simmer down now Sugar,” the Great Mother would whisper, “simmer and settle down.  All will be well.  After all, tomorrow is another day.”  (When the Great Mother speaks she’s apt to sound like one of my favorite heroines. How about you?  Don’t you love it?  What wise woman do you hear in your head?)

Autumn October 1930 cover of Woman's Home Companion

Autumn October 1930 cover of Woman's Home Companion

We should have learned Heaven’s laws quickly from the seasons but it has taken us millennia and here we still are. “If the workings of cause and effect were everywhere as visible as in the world of seed and harvest, much human folly might reach a happy ending in wisdom,” Bonaro Overstreet observed in a little book of comfort, Meditations for Women: For Every Day in the Year A Day’s Worth of Spiritual Refreshment published in 1947 which is a compilation of twelve women writers’ monthly musings on the shape of the year. “A grocer, unlocking his store, exchanges a word with a passer-by, ‘Feels like winter’s coming and it’s going to be a tough one for a lot of folks—all over the world.”

I love the Old Testament’s story of Ruth, a young widow living with her mother-in-law Naomi, who was also a widow, which meant not just being poor, but destitute and homeless.  However, ancient spiritual law instructed land owners that any harvest which fell to the ground, as well as the four corners of each field were to be left for the poor and hungry to “glean” or pick up. Ruth would follow the harvests to gather up the bounty of goodness left behind as she worked for them both.   It’s a wonderful Biblical parable (Ruth 1 and 2) which reveals something new every time I read it.  

The subject of “gleaning” was an especially fertile source of inspiration for Victorian artists coming after the land was abandoned and families moved to the city to find work. One of the most famous paintings of this tradition is “Gleaning” which is often attributed to the Pre-Raphaelite English painter, Arthur Hughes (1832-1915), although recent art scholars believe it was another Hughes, either his son Arthur Foord Hughes, or nephew, Edward Robert Hughes.  But whoever captured the blessing of gleaning, it still speaks to us today. We need to pause and realize that our own hearts will always remain hungry, even if we are the honored guests at the world’s banquet, as long as we ignore our souls’ knowledge of any mother’s prayer and pleading to feed her children. 

 "Gleaning" often attributed to the Pre-Raphaeite English painter Arthur Hughes (1832-1915) but art scholars now believe was painted by his son Arthur Foord Hughes or nephew, Edward Robert Hughes.

 "Gleaning" often attributed to the Pre-Raphaeite English painter Arthur Hughes (1832-1915) but art scholars now believe was painted by his son Arthur Foord Hughes or nephew, Edward Robert Hughes.

But we also need to realize that “gleaning” is meant to be a blessing, however we may encounter it and all of us must in some way; whether we visit thrift shops, hunt for berries in an English bramble, refinish an rubbish bin table or depend on the kindness of strangers at a food bank because of unexpected circumstances.  There is no shame in the blessing of “gleaning”, sweetheart, only love, for if there is a Gift, then surely there must be a Giver and we are not alone.  As we reap and sow, we also learn to glean and then, give back.

This September I know that I must also glean in my private moments;  wandering through the golden fields of acceptance, grace and gratitude searching for my happy memories among the sheaves of wistfulness. Finally, time has done her perfect work and I am able to let go of regret and remorse, so that I can begin again. I leave yesterday’s English brambly apples for others. Today I choose to cherish my California dream of orange, lemon and lime trees, and hay, the fragrance of my future.  A citrus orchard next to a stable. There’s an apple in my pocket for the horse waiting for me to find her and bring her home to a new pasture. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I do know it includes a horse and where there’s a horse, there is a stall in a barn and a paddock and me.  Excited to be on my way again, and start a new life by cleaning up the barn. Oh yes, for if there is a Gift, then there must be the Giver eager to shower creatures both great and small with joy.  It makes me smile just to write these words.  Please believe with me and I will believe for you and we both know what happens when two women agree that something must be done.  
The world has always divided the kingdom of Earth between the haves and haves-not and it’s not going to stop anytime soon, so we must be willing and able to help each other. But the blessed Sisters of Mercy, the heavenly Saving Graces, and our Mothers Nature and Plenty, have been lavish with their hidden bounty left behind in our sad, lonely and abandoned places.  Still, it is up to us to distinguish between the bitter and the sweet, and to separate the wheat from the chaff, for all the goodness we can glean and gather in. 

Weeping may endure for even seasons of our lives, darling reader, but if we’re just willing to be open to receive, those clenched fists will unfurl and we can be surprised by joy.  My prayer for you this week is a new well-spent moment for your Gratitude Journal. Please share your joy with me and other kindred spirits by following the conversation here and on Twitter and Instagram. Blessings on your courage and sending my dearest love, 

XO Sarah Ban Breathnach

Back to the Future

Dearest Friends,

It’s good to catch-up with you after a longer than expected “time out.” I confess that I’ve been coaxed back by your enthusiasm and urgings for me to write more and take you with me, which has been a source of happy amazement for which I thank you profusely.  My prior reluctance to join in the whirl of social media up until now has also provided some unexpected amusement and benefits.  A few months ago my marvelous sister, Maureen O’Crean, asked you on the sly to send me surprise birthday greetings, safe in the knowledge that since I never visit Facebook or Twitter, I’d genuinely be surprised.  And surprise me you did, in wondrous ways.  With my birthday breakfast came a beautiful box filled to the brim with cards, long heartfelt letters and tokens of whimsy and deep affection, including a gorgeous “gratitude quilt” which made me smile and cry at the same time.  You’re simply the best!


You generously shared reflections of your own winding and rewarding Simple Abundance journey over these last twenty years; your life-changing discoveries with Something More a decade after I wrote it, and the sheer relief you felt having an honest, heartfelt, and private conversation without shame about a women’s complicated relationship with money in Peace and Plenty. Some of you wrote of the lovely bond that you and your grown daughters now share reading Simple Abundance together each day.  And I was thrilled by your absolute delight with my first children’s book The Best Part of the Day which introduces your precious grandchildren to the wondrous practice of daily gratitude (thank you to our glorious illustrator Wendy Edelson for her magic!)

Above all, you sent my favorite gift of all, prayers for my health and happiness. I truly believe that the gift of prayers by women for women is Heaven’s secret weapon because the spiritual electricity unleashed when we send and receive prayer literally separates the Light from the darkness. I still haven’t been able to read all your best wishes yet but I have felt them every day and so this past birthday has become a marvelous moveable feast, as I open one missive at a time and share the day with you in thought, thanks and prayers for your happiness. You are truly my Belle Lettres and the name of each one of you is engraved in my heart’s gratitude journal. Thank you my darling girl-friends, thank you!

What you shared with me privately and collectively has resonated deeply.  It seems that I’m not the only woman in the world needing to re-boot every aspect her life and wondering how and where to begin again.  It was a surprise, wasn’t it, to realize as we woke up from our Sleeping Beauty nap, that we were between the ages of 51 and 69 and with a lifetime’s expectations of how/and what we would be doing in our prime time abruptly cancelled.  Now that we’ve actually grown up to become “women of a certain age” we’re not quite sure of what we’re meant to do with our time, creative energy, passion and emotion. "Retirement" is what our parents did.  We don't know what the word means today, either because we're not ready or able to retire.  But with at least an additional twenty year active life span ahead of us (although I hope to convince you to see in a century with me) if it doesn’t include that adorable New England B&B or Napa Valley winery of our fortysomething daydreams, then what are we going to do?  

It's a question I've been asking myself, pondering upon and praying about.  How do I want to live my future?  I've started to call this opportunity our “sudden windfall” stage of life.  You see instead of feeling as if the rug was pulled out from under us, let's flip the unexplored and unexpected and become a domestic/literary explorer with me.  Let's believe we’ve all been blessed with an unexpected inheritance from an unknown Divine Great Aunt, who was/and still is, one Swell Dame: beautiful, bold, brave and a legend in her own time, who has a few important lessons to teach us. I’ve been rummaging through the attic of social history where Great Auntie’s mystical trunks have been stored. I’ve been compiling notes from her diaries and dispatches dashed off behind the front lines of the rapidly changing 20th century (along with those of her gal pals) as quickly as I can. And I’ve happily discovered there is amazing golden thread that runs through the tapestry of women I’ve long admired, from all walks of life; women who were flesh, bone and blood before they became icons and archetypes, both famous and forgotten. Their secret to not just surviving, but thriving, despite reversals of fortune was their inexhaustible courage and willingness to begin again.  They worked with change, they didn’t fight it. And they realized if change came once, it was coming around again. And this time they were going to be ready to catch the golden ring.  They learned to work with life’s cycles, changing even faster as a pre-emptive tactic to protect and preserve everything they cherished.  This Divine agent provocateur attitude comforts me enormously as I weave the woof and warp of our own “becoming” into a guide for this next, unexpected but glorious stage of our brilliant story.  As the incomparable Colette put it: “What a wonderful life I’ve had!  I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” 

Well, guess what, Babe? We do now.  

Being an Irish writer, I can’t really say much more at the moment but I do hope to have happy news for you soon.  In the meantime, while I’m trying to bridge the world of time travel as well as writing (both quill and digital), I need to ask your help.  Let me put it this way, I still have my training wheels on with the whole social media scene, and I’m only going as far as the driveway at the moment.  

But the people who love me (and that includes you!), tell me it’s time, and I’ve heard you, so here we go.  

Welcome to my new website – and my new blog “Between the Lines”--this is my first post. There’s also the announcement of my Swell Dames Club (which you’ll join when you sign up for my new mailing list).  My absolutely fabulous daughter, Kate Sharp, who has brought me into the 21st century, in such a beautiful and elegant way, has asked me to encourage you to follow me on Twitter (@simpleabundance), Instagram (@sarahbanbreathnach) and like my new author’s page on Facebook (@SBanBreathnach).

So thank you for spreading the good word and I’ll do my best to keep writing them.

Sending unbounded thanks for your love, support for my work in the world and those prayers! I return the hugs and blessings on your courage as we start a new adventure together.  As they say, let’s Follow, Tweet, Like and Share.

Dearest Love,