The Dean’s Reflection column with Very Rev John Dobson

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society is probably most famous for the Great Yorkshire Show.
The Yorkshire Agricultural Society is probably most famous for the Great Yorkshire Show.

Why does anything exist at all? This was a question I found myself pondering in a packed cathedral during last Friday evening’s Ripon International Festival concert.

The Royal Northern Sinfonia was playing works by J S Bach and Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, known as the Pastoral Symphony. The interesting thing about this symphony is that it was regarded by the composer as his ‘Song to Pan’.

Pan, in Greek mythology, was the god of fields, woods, shepherds and flocks.

He was represented as a man with a goat’s legs, horns and ears. Famously, he played the pipe, and so was also regarded as the god of rustic music.

Well, listening to the delightful music, conducted by Janusz Piotrowicz, I couldn’t help reflecting on what we observe, enjoy and fear in nature – think about the recent storms and earthquakes that have devastated communities in the Caribbean and the southern American states. Also about what I might say during the Yorkshire Agricultural Society’s Harvest service in the cathedral next Sunday.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony speaks of the power of nature in our lives. The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) reminds us of how we seek to work in a fruitful way with nature today.

But why does anything exist at all?

The YAS is a great organisation of which the region can be proud. It was founded in 1837 to help improve and promote agriculture. It is probably most famous for the Great Yorkshire Show. In Sunday’s service, in which the choir and congregation will be singing some of the traditional harvest hymns, I will certainly want to encourage an appreciation of this glorious region and those within it who work so hard to produce ‘our daily bread’. In a world where the forces of nature can often seem cruel, and in which there is so much political unrest and economic uncertainty, we still have much to be thankful for.

And where, ultimately, do we direct our gratitude? The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has recently said our schools must teach British values. This was in the context of commenting on communities that are hostile to our traditions.

“Pupils should learn how we became the country we are today and how our values make us a beacon of liberalism, tolerance and fairness.” Well, yes, but people of all generations need to learn the lessons.

And these values do need to be unpacked. For example, being tolerant presumably means that we don’t tolerate intolerance.

And are we liberal enough to tolerate extremism? The question, then, is where do we discover the moral framework to shape our values. Historically we have taken our lead from the Christian faith, and this remains helpful today.

The fundamental truth that we celebrate at harvest is the fact that the creator God is the source of all that there is and without his providence nothing continues to exist.

Harvest reminds us that when we ask, “Why does anything exist?” the response of Christianity is that God has chosen it to be so. Once we grasp this, we begin to glimpse the foundation of a moral framework for our society. Everyone in this, and every nation, exists because of God’s love and is equally precious to him, as shown in Christ.

That is a firm foundation for our moral values. Pausing to thank God for the harvest, then, has even more benefit than we might at first imagine. If you would like to join us for the YAS Harvest Service at 10.30am on Sunday, October 1, you are most welcome.