Reflection—September 1, 2019
i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everythingwhich is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
How should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no of all nothing –
human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awakeand now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
I recite this poem by e. e. cummings almost every morning. On sunny summer days I say it standing on the deck, looking out over the often exquisitely beautiful early morning sea and sky. And on stormy winter days, looking out from the comfort of my warm couch, I say it to remind me to be grateful for life and creation in all its variety.
The hymns and the psalm reading that are part of our worship this morning reverberate with similar themes of the beauty and mystery of creation and echoes of the story about our beginnings, told in Genesis:
“Creating God, your fingers trace the bold designs of farthest space”
“Into the unshaped silence sings the sound of God’s own voice. The darkness bows to light newborn…”
“The sounds of Creation mingle with the music of the spheres…” On this first day of September, at the end of summertime when we have had a chance to spend time in nature, I invite you to pause and ponder with me the wonder and mystery of creation.
In the church calendar the month of September is sometimes called “Creation Time.” It is a relatively new addition to the cycle of the church year, which begins with Advent, moves into Lent and Easter, and finishes with the Season after Pentecost.
Creation Time offers us an opportunity to reflect on the loveliness of creation and the Creator; to become “God-noticers” (as my friend Ingrid Brown suggests) in the world around us, not just waiting for dramatic storms or northern lights to incite our awe but noticing small daily revelations that can keep us attuned to the Holy in all things.
In our worship we usually follow a lectionary cycle of biblical readings that follow the seasons of the church year. Each week includes readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, stories about Jesus told in the gospels and letters of the New Testament, and usually one of the psalms. I confess that after almost 20 years of working on curriculum resources for children and youth I got a bit tired of the same stories repeated in the lectionary’s three-year cycle. But I did look forward to hearing the chosen psalms, and I’ve missed having these as part of our weekly readings each Sunday.
St. John Cassian, a monk in the third century, said that the psalms carry in them “all the feelings of which human nature is capable.” More recently the Catholic theologian, Richard Rohr, says that the psalms lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God.
Poet Kathleen Norris writes of her experience singing the psalms three times a day as a guest in a Benedictine monastery: “In expressing all the complexities and contradictions of human experience the psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first.”
And while I recognize that not every psalm speaks for me or to me, I appreciate the variety and complexity of the psalms because they embody the doubts and fears of human living, as well as a trust in God’s creative loving presence and promise.
Although Psalm 104 is not one of the lectionary readings for today I chose it because it is a song about God’s creation and providence, which seems fitting in this Creation Time. This psalm and many others provide a window through which we can glimpse the presence and action of the Creator, and images that express some of the profoundest truths about the created world.
In the beginning…light…in the beginning…wonder…in the beginning…mystery.
There are so many wondrous images of the Creator God in Psalm 104: Radiance covering the waters; shining through the clouds, and riding on the wings of the wind; the wind, like the Breath of Life, carrying God’s Voice; bringing harmony and balance to all the earth; the majesty of Creation seen throughout the land”
These are all powerful and beautiful images of God as the creative force and wisdom within and throughout all of creation. If you were to write a psalm about creation, I wonder what images you would choose?
Over the last several years I have been drawn to Celtic Christianity and my soul has found profound resonance in the writings of both ancient and modern Celts. In the Celtic tradition, God is understood as speaking through two books: the book of the Bible and the book of creation.
Celtic Christianity arose in Ireland and parts of Scotland around the fifth century and celebrated a life of simplicity in close harmony with the created world. Many Celtic monasteries were situated in remote regions close to nature, and Celts sometimes refer to the whole of the created world as a “great cathedral.” It is a spirituality based on ancient, mystical beliefs about God, human beings, and their relationship with all of creation.
One ancient Celtic writer puts it this way:There is no life in the sea, no creature in the river, nothing in the heavens, that does not proclaim God’s goodness. There is no bird on the wing, no star in the sky, nothing beneath the sun, that does not proclaim God’s goodness.
In the beginning…light
Psalm 104 begins with the words, “Bless the Radiant One, O my soul! The psalmist speaks of the Creator being “arrayed in light.” A fundamental belief of Celtic tradition is that at the heart of all that has life is the light of God and that the whole fabric of creation is woven through with the thread of God’s light. All life is rooted in the light of that first day of creation and the essence of that life, both visible and invisible, is the light of God.
The poet Gerard Manely Hopkins recognized this in his poem “God’s Grandeur”: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.It will flame out, like shining from shook foil…”
The light that was in the beginning still glows at the heart of life but we do not always notice its brilliance. Sometimes we become so familiar with our little corner of creation, that we lose our sense of wonder at its beauty and our sense of awe at its mystery. During this season of Creation Time let us resolve to pay attention to the artistic majesty of God’s creation which surrounds us.
In the beginning…wonder
“God calls us all to join and sing the wonder of the earth, and through our careful stewardship to guard creation’s worth.”
These words, from the hymn sung by the choir at the beginning of the service, are echoed in a verse from Psalm 104: “O, that we might receive your gifts, taking only what is needed with grateful hearts…”
We are slow to learn that we damage ourselves when we live in alienation from that to which we belong. During this season of Creation Time let us also resolve to honour the created world and be good stewards of the earth.
In the beginning…mystery
The story of creation found in the book of Genesis and echoed in Psalm 104 is a meditation on the ever-present mystery of creation. The words of the psalmist and the poets that we have heard today remind us to reverence creation as the dwelling place of God.
The created world is full of thin places, spaces where we can encounter the Sacred. We don’t have to go to the island of Iona or hike to the top of Mt Albert Edward. These spaces are all around us if we are open to the mystery. In these experiences we are called back to our beginnings in light and goodness. We are called forward to walk in wonder, open to the mystery that surrounds us in the book of creation.
I will end with this blessing from Celtic poet John Philip Newell:
May the universe be on fire with Presence for us this day.
May the sun grace us with gratitude.
May the earth’s greenness shine
and its waters breathe with the Spirit.
May heaven’s winds stir the soil of our soul
and fresh awakenings rise within us.
May they summon us to reverence,
may they call us to life.