Sometime in July I came across a book called Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation. Sam Hamilton-Poore, the author, has set it up in such a way that it can be used for daily personal prayer in the morning, midday, and evening in a four-week cycle. I bought a copy and set it aside to use this month, beginning today, with the dual intention of deepening my own prayers for creation and of sharing my experience with this book on this blog after using it for a couple of weeks or so. I still intend to do both things, but the way today’s morning readings and prayers resonated with the Gospel lesson in our Daily Office cycle led me to share something of today’s experience.
Today’s Gospel lesson was John 1:1-18: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Scripture passage for the first day of Earth Gospel is Genesis 1:1-5: “ In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth… ”
Before introducing the Genesis passage, Earth Gospel began with a quotation from Joseph Renville’s hymn “Many and great” (Hymn 385 in The Hymnal 1982), followed by the hymn “Morning has broken” (Hymn 8) which suggests that each new morning is “God’s recreation of the new day", of the first morning God created.
Sitting outdoors on a warm but pleasant morning hearing a variety of birdsongs and seeing flowers in bloom and squirrels chasing each other up and down the trees, I thought about “Morning has broken/Like the first morning” and about Genesis 1:5, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day”. I tried to think about the first time something we would recognize as a bird sang something we would name as birdsong, the first time something we would name as a flower bloomed, the first time creatures we would call squirrels chased each other up and down something we would recognize as a tree. When did the first bird sing, and what was that like? In some way, surely, that first birdsong changed everything! When did the first flower bloom? When did a human being first stand on a beach and play in the surf? When did we first name the sorts of birds I hear in central Nebraska, and how long did they sing before anyone named them?
It is as difficult for me to imagine the “first morning”, the first of all of these things that feed my soul now, as it is for me to imagine the last of them. Thinking about the last birdsong is especially poignant to me, as their songs have brought joy to me since my earliest memories and since we know the birds are in trouble. Loss of habitat, pollution, and climate all endanger a variety of bird species. (See also the March 17 2010 post State of the Birds.) There may be in my lifetime, as I continue living, a last time I hear certain bird songs in my location.
It’s impossible and yet wonderful to try to think about that beginning John describes with the Word that both was with God and was God. Part of the difficulty of that effort is the abstract nature of the Word before the Word became flesh and lived among us. However, that may be a small part of the difficulty, as it seems equally impossible and yet wonderful to try thinking about the beginning of the things we can see and hear around us.
There is some hope in remembering that thinking about both the first and the last brings a profound sense of wonder, despite the first bringing wonder at unimaginable joy and the last bringing wonder at unimaginable grief. By bringing us to a place of wonder, both remind us of the profound importance of environmental stewardship. The beginning and the end are beyond our understanding, but not so far beyond our minds as to prevent our growing in wonder and gratitude at God’s creation and at our responsibility to join God in the holy work of sustaining the beauty and goodness of creation.