Thursday, September 29, 2011

Michaelmas and Wonder in Creation

(Rosh Hashanah, Too!)

Today was the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, also known as Michaelmas. Traditionally, Michaelmas has marked the divide between late summer and fall – hence the British ‘Michaelmas term’ for what we would call ‘fall semester’.

The angels described in the Bible are different from the cute angels of popular culture. Something about Biblical angels makes it necessary for them to say, “Fear not!” when they appear to humans. Exactly what sorts of creatures these are is hard to say; exactly what the word ‘angel’ represents is at least in part a mystery to us. But they are creatures, part of God’s creation. Because today celebrates all angels, it’s in part a celebration of those mysteries in creation that are beyond our understanding. With the change in seasons and a reminder of the wonder and mystery of creation, Michaelmas is a good time to renew our own sense of wonder at God’s creation.

Today’s meditation in Forward Day by Day says that today’s observance calls us to “remember the vastness of God’s creation in which angels and archangels fill the heavenly court.” The writer adds:

We inhabit a cosmos greater than anything we can imagine, yet all is within the reign of God. To remember this is to grow in awe, trust, and hope in God’s purpose.

Wonders abound this time of year in our corner of creation. The rich colors of autumn leaves and grasses are probably the most striking change. The flowers in fields and gardens that are still blooming have their own striking colors. Butterflies, including monarchs, are migrating. The air is crisper than it was even a couple of weeks ago, and the sky seems to be a deeper shade of blue as fall sets in. At night, the fall sky can be amazing.

The practice of wonder at the earth, the heavens, and the mysteries of all of God’s unimaginably vast creation can help us be mindful of the majesty, power, and goodness of the Creator and more caring of God’s creation. Our own part of God’s good creation, this blue-green planet we call home, is in need of care and defenders. Today’s reading from Revelation (Revelation 12:7-12 ) about the war in heaven between Michael and his angels against the dragon and his angels gives us an ideal of the forces of good battling the forces of evil. Our battles against forces that would destroy much of the rich variety of life on earth through pollution, habitat destruction, and greenhouse gas emissions require the same sort of persistence and courage that all battles require. It also requires wisdom, the ability to see both the big picture and the smallest of creatures, and the willingness to learn and adapt. Along with calling us to wonder, Michaelmas can call us to renew our commitment to fight for a sustainable environment for all living things.

While we are observing Michaelmas today, our Jewish brothers and sisters are observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and beginning of the High Holy Days. Through the GreenFaith website, I found the post The Binding of Isaac and a Spirit of Optimism by Rabbi Edward Bernstein, a GreenFaith Fellow. Rabbi Bernstein tells how awe of creation and the Creator permeate the story of the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22), one of the biblical texts in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. Rabbi Bernstein helps us see the dual themes of awe in creation and a call to stewardship of creation in this story. It’s well worth a read, and wonderfully relevant to our own observance this day.