Category Archives: Environment

Morning Prayer: A Genesis Prayer

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We may think morning prayer is a few mumbled words or the Sign of the Cross quickly made, but morning prayer is meant to be an important part of our experience as we wake from darkness and sleep.

“Let there be light and there was light; and God said it was good.” (Genesis 1, 3-4) Light was the first thing God made. True Light, which enlightens everyone, came into our world, John’s gospel says. ( John 1, 9)

I sit on the porch for a few minutes in the early morning and watch the sun come through the tall trees lining our garden to the east. In winter it takes awhile. In summer, the sparrows and the doves and sometimes a pair of cardinals gather at the bird feeder to begin the day. Before I do a thing, the world gradually is bathed in light and comes awake.

Before I do a thing.

Morning prayer is a Genesis Prayer, an assurance we shouldn’t miss. Light comes to our world today, True Light, as it was from the beginning. Darkness is a sign of the world that’s chaotic. The psalms and hymns of morning prayer say light comes, and we pray our eyes be open to see.

The images in morning prayer are important. In the beginning God created a garden, a symbol of the world ordered and in harmony, beautiful and fruitful. God is the great Gardener, a king enthroned over creation, and all is God’s garden, the morning psalms say.

“Shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy…Let the sea and all within it thunder praise, the world and all its peoples. Let the rivers clap their hands, and the hills ring out their joy. Rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Psalm 98, Wednesday Morning 111)

The world, however chaotic it seems, is cared for by the One who made it.

Sometimes God is a Shepherd, a Great Shepherd bestriding the world: “Here comes with power the Lord God…Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers his lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40, Thursday Morning 111)

Sometimes we’re asked to see the world as a city, God’s holy city. “On the holy mountain is his city, cherished by the Lord…a holy city.” (Psalm 87 Thursday Morning III) We’re asked to see our world as holy, yet still to be built.

“Sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth; sing to the Lord and bless his name.” we’re told as we begin the day. (Psalm 96. Monday Morning, 111)

“Serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence singing for joy.”

Laudato Si and the Passion of Jesus Christ



The temptation when reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on our common home, is to limit it to a series of political or economic or social recommendations. It goes deeper than that.

Early on in his encyclical Laudato Si, the pope says that “Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (19) He’s asking for a change in the way we see things and do things.

A painful seeing and a painful doing. The pope seems to me to be recommending we take a traditional form of Christian prayer, meditation on the Passion of Christ, and extend it to a meditation on the pains of creation and the pains of the poor. We are to make their pain our own and then “discover what each of us can do about it.”

Mystics are usually the people who see the connection of things. Is the pope calling for a passion mysticism, prompted by the Passion of Jesus, that hears “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor?” (49)

I like his quotation of the Sufi spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas who “stresses that we not put too much distance between creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.”

“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).

Will the Spring Rains Come?

 April showers. Spring rains.

Cyril of Jerusalem has a wonderful sermon on water that he preached to catechumens centuries ago. Here are a couple of lines:

“Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.”

The saint goes on to say that just as water adapts itself to every creature, the Holy Spirit gives life to each one according to its needs and to benefit the common good. The Spirit’s coming is gentle, not felt as a burden, with tenderness, as a true friend, to save, heal, counsel, strengthen and console.

So back to spring rains. Will they come this year? Climate change? Is it at work with the spring? The magnolia tree outside my room hopes the rains will come, and the other trees and plants in our garden hope they will too. They’re waiting for the rain to fall on the earth to do what it always does. Like the Spirit of God, water brings life.

Send the spring rains, Lord.

Noah and the Ark

Where did the story come from?

A few years ago Nova on PBS featured a program called“The Secrets of Noah’s Ark.” In early times, floods were common in the “Fertile Crescent,” the area in Mesopotamia {modern Iraq} where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the ancient city of Babylon were located. Floods, sometimes great floods, occurred, so the people had to be ready. You had to keep your boats handy, and a big boat also– you never knew..

But people then, as now, had short memories. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.” (Matthew 24, 37-38)

I suspect some Babylonian priests then– meteorologists and story tellers of the age– came up with a flood story thousands of years before the Noah story in Genesis, to keep people on their toes – and maybe challenge some early climate change deniers too. It reinforced important advice: “ Keep your boats in shape and make sure a big boat’s around for ‘the big one.’”

Jewish priests and scribes in 6th century Babylon saw the story a perfect fit for the story of human origins they were telling their people. For them the take-away from the story was not to keep a big boat handy, but to be faithful to God like Noah and Abraham and their families. If they were faithful, God would save them from the flood and bring them  to the Promised Land.

The Nova program showed evidence from today of those big boats there “just in case.”

The story gave hope to the Jews driven from Jerusalem to exile in Babylon where, “By the rivers of Bablyon, we sat ad wept, remembering Zion.” (Psalm 137)  Christians– the pictures in the catacombs remind us (above)– saw Noah as a sign that the waters of baptism saved them from death and brought them the promise of paradise lost by Adam and Eve.

So the story of Noah and the ark is more than a myth.

We’re Not Alone

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The LORD God said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
(Genesis 2,18)

We usually rush on when we hear these words to the creation of Eve, who becomes “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” for Adam, and the human story begins.

But the Genesis account  we read today and a medieval artist (above) remind us that God first “formed out the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man… but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” (Genesis 2,19 ff)

Adam signals to God these new creatures are not enough, but does he dismiss them altogether for Eve? Whether they realize it or not, the two will not be alone on this planet. Besides caring for each other, their destiny is to care for the creatures Adam names. They’re their partners too and share this common home.

Water

Mary Garden, Passionist Monastery, Jamaica, New York

Today’s reading from Genesis begins the second creation account (Genesis 2,4..) which pays particular attention to the creation of human beings. But it begins with water, welling up from the earth bringing life to the earth and finally the human family. Water is at the heart of the garden God provides for Adam and Eve. We have a fountain in the center of our Mary Garden signifying water’s vital role in the garden that was Eden and in the world we live in today.
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Pope Francis speaks repeatedly of the role of water in our common home of creation and our need to care for it. Here are some of his reflections from last year’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Notice his strong objection to attempts to privatize water by commercial groups.

“On this World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which the Catholic Church for several years now has celebrated in union with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and with participation of other Churches and Christian communities, I would like to draw attention to the question of water. It is a very simple and precious element, yet access to it is, sadly, for many people difficult if not impossible. Nonetheless, “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world owes a great social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (ibid., 30).
Water invites us to reflect on our origins. The human body is mostly composed of water, and many civilizations throughout history arose near great rivers that marked their identity. In an evocative image, the beginning of the book of Genesis states that, in the beginning, the spirit of the Creator “swept over the face of the waters (1:2)”.
In considering the fundamental role of water in creation and in human development, I feel the need to give thanks to God for “Sister Water”, simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet.  Precisely for this reason, care for water sources and water basins is an urgent imperative. Today, more than ever, we need to look beyond immediate concerns (cf. Laudato Si’, 36) and beyond a purely utilitarian view of reality, “in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit” (ibid., 159). We urgently need shared projects and concrete gestures that recognize that every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, is unacceptable.
For us Christians, water represents an essential element of purification and of life.  We think immediately of baptism, the sacrament of our rebirth. Water made holy by the Spirit is the matter by which God has given us life and renewed us; it is the blessed source of undying life. For Christians of different confessions, baptism also represents the real and irreplaceable point of departure for experiencing an ever more authentic fraternity on the way to full unity. Jesus, in the course of his mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:14).  He prophesied, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink (Jn 7:37). To drink from Jesus means to encounter him personally as the Lord, drawing from his words the meaning of life. May the words he spoke from the cross – “I thirst” (Jn 19:28) – echo constantly in our hearts. The Lord continues to ask that his thirst be quenched; he thirsts for love.  He asks us to give him to drink in all those who thirst in our own day, and to say to them, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Mt 25:35). To give to drink, in the global village, does not only entail personal gestures of charity, but also concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.”

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/taglist.cultura-e-societa.Diritti-umani.html

The Days of Genesis

The days that unfold in the Book of Genesis we’re reading this week get ever more complex. First, there’s God, then light and water paving the way for a host of new things, non-living and living. Finally, we humans enter the picture. A complex, changing world it is, day by day.

Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun and poet, wrote about our experience of that world– “Song At Daybreak”

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

 

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

“My Beautiful unknown”. Our world is beautiful, but unknown, surprising, with variations that bring “anguish or elation.” Religious people should acknowledge this, since they believe in a surprising God, but unfortunately we can make God too small. We “think like humans do.” We only think so far.

Pope Francis is taking some flack for a statement on religious freedom he made jointly with the Grand Iman of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi last week: “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

“Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

“Religious indifferentism” some say, but is it just acknowledging the world the Book of Genesis describes? Our common home is complex, “willed by God in His wisdom.”

The Genesis account and the rest of the Bible deserve a search for their wisdom. I know there’s a new story that science tells, but Genesis and the Bible were there first.They have a story too.