Vincent Van Gogh painted Blossoming Almond Tree (1890) with a particular person in mind, he dedicated the painting to his nephew. Vincent’s brother Theo had named his son after his uncle. The painting was placed above the boy’s bed:
“What he does do is look at Uncle Vincent’s pictures with a good deal of interest – the tree in blossom especially, which is hanging over his bed, seems to enthrall him.”
(Letter from Johanna van Gogh-Bonger to Vincent in Paris, 29th March 1890).
Rogationtide, the Easter days preceding Ascension, is the seasonal observance of the new springtime. Rogation sees the church in action, metaphorically uncovering Van Gogh’s masterful painting of the almond blossom and being enthralled by it. Rogation comes from the Latin verb, ‘to ask’. Like many Christian festivals it has evolved from a pagan rite – Robigalia, the annual sacrifice of a dog to propitiate Robigus, the Roman god of agricultural disease!
Rogationtide brings a fresh awareness of the natural world, its vulnerablility as well as our dependency upon it. These days of prayer are dedicated to new life, new growth, which is bursting with promise and potential. Rogation days have traditionally been kept by church communities as times of procession and petition, beating the bounds of the parish – asking, requesting, beseeching God to protect the seeds and crops in order to produce a fruitful harvest.
This Spring, nature seems to contain very special interest; the blossom has been extraordinarily beautiful. So we ask God that these fruits are brought to harvest. There is something vocational about this season, promising greatness, maturity and fulfilment. As we beat the bounds, journeying to the extremities of our missional world, might we experience the beginnings of a new order, not one of our making but purely of God’s?