Homegrown Prayer—Day 39: July 9

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July 9, 2020

Homegrown Prayer—Day 39: July 9

Written by: Julia Smolucha

By The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

The southeast stained glass window in our sanctuary is the Swedenborgian window, which includes a little picture of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Chapman is affectionately called the “American St. Francis of Assisi” because of his animal rights activism, vegetarian diet, and spiritual mysticism connected to the earth. He strategically planted apple trees across New England and the Midwest, and famously paddled a canoe full of apple saplings down the Ohio River. The apple trees weren’t for apple pie, of course, but instead part of a calculated economic plan. The apples were used to make cider, a mainstay in the early American diet, and vital part of the farming economy. And, at the time, you could lay claim to a vacant plot of land by planting as few as 50 apple trees. By the time he died, Chapman owned 1,200 acres of land, all apple orchards.

John Chapman was known for joyfully giving away religious tracts from his Swedenborgian church, also called the Church of the New Jerusalem, named after Joseph Swedenborgan, who believed that if we all simply pursued love of God and love of neighbor, then we’d be able to abandon divisive denominational pursuits and live together in religious harmony.

The reason we have Johnny Appleseed and the Swedenborgians in stained glass at Kenilworth Union is because of Joseph Sears’ lifetime connection to the Swedenborgian church. He grew up at a Swedenborgian congregation in Chicago, and his childhood pastor was influential in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the Parliament of World Religions. You can see how Swedenborg’s influence still lives within our congregation today, as we hold Matthew 22 as our foundational text: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself.”

I have been enjoying singing “The Johnny Appleseed Song” at home with my son and during our zoom story times with children during the pandemic. I appreciate its simplicity, its focus on gratitude, and its connection to the basic rhythms of the earth that children understand at an early age.

May God be with you in the sun, the rain and the appleseed today.

Let us pray:

Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun, the rain and the appleseed;
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.
—Johnny Appleseed Song

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