Reflection and Prayers
This week, parents seemed to smile that bit brighter and teachers looked that bit more exhausted as schools across England and Wales went back for their first full week. Given all the interruptions and challenges that pupils, teachers, and their families, have faced over the past 18 months, we’d do well to think of them, pray for a less disruptive school year, and show our appreciation for all with which they’ve coped. The start of the new school year can be chaotic at the best of times…but it can also be hugely exciting as friends are to be made, gifts are to be discovered, and new leaves may well be turned.
And so I found myself thinking back to my school days this week – both as pupil and teacher – the joy or horror at being introduced to the new subject teacher…or class; the annual bet over who would be the first teacher to make a new year 7 pupil cry (so cruel!); the getting to grips with the new exam criteria…and it was this that came to mind as I read over the first few chapters of Genesis again.
You see, my Religious Studies GCSE class had to demonstrate their knowledge of different Christian attitudes to the environment and part of this meant learning the order of creation from Genesis 1. I wonder how you’d fare – if I asked you to recite the order of creation that is described in the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible, whether you could rattle them off or not. Perhaps you wouldn’t know where to start. Perhaps you’d nail days 1, 6 & 7 but would be a little sketchy in between. Or perhaps, like my pupils, you might have a mnemonic to help you get all seven days (‘left handed liberals suck fat lemons regularly’ was ours!!!). Whatever the case, let’s focus in and listen up as we watch a rather spectacular retelling of those first seven days now as Robert, Jan, George, Lynda, Claire, Stephen, Cerys, Bethan, Pam and family offer their creative retelling of creation…
Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
I wonder what stood out for you there. Was there a word or phrase which came to the fore? For me it was the word ‘good’. It was used 8 times in the translation we used, 7 times in the more traditional version, and the word that we translate as ‘good’ here is the Hebrew word ‘tov’ as in ‘mazel tov’ – ‘good fortune!’. So seven times – a Hebrew number of completion – God is said to call creation ‘tov’ – good or desirable, beautiful, right in our origin story.
Isn’t that, in itself, beautiful? And also, one could argue, quite ridiculous. For the world and all its creatures seem to be a long way from good. Earthquakes, flash-floods, fires and hurricanes have filled the news headlines just over the past few weeks and all the indicators suggest that this is going to get worse. But at least we have other news in the headlines to give us hope, right?! Perhaps not. As fear, desperation, and misogyny spreads again in Afghanistan; as the pandemic rages on in many places across the world and is far from over here; as the rights of women are attacked in Texas and the vulnerable are dismissed from Dover, God’s creation and creatures feel far from good. Instead of believing in original goodness – as the Genesis story attests – it can feel more tempting to believe that we have our origins in violence, destruction, and fear.
And that’s exactly what the people of Israel encountered when they were taken into captivity in Babylon.
Quick historical reminder for you (and me!) – it was in the sixth century before Christ (BCE!) that, following a number of conflicts between themselves and with others, many of the Jewish people were forced into exile in Babylon where they were kept as slaves in a strange and foreign land. ‘By the rivers of Babylon,’ the captives wrote ‘we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion’. The opening words of Psalm 137 there, a poem of desolation and rage which ends with the threat – ‘Happy shall they be who take your children and smash them against the rocks’. An interesting choice for a disco hit!!!
Anyway, whilst in Babylon, the Jewish captives encountered the Babylonian worldview and their various religious beliefs including the Enuma Elish – a popular Babylonian origin story which describes the beginning of creation. In short, the myth suggests that the universe began after an epic battle between the gods ending in the male god, Ea, killing the female god, Tiamat, and tearing her body apart, using her corpse to create the world and all its creatures. As an origin story, it’s violent, misogynistic, and on a bad day, can feel true to who we are.
But the exiled Jews, even in their captivity, did not agree. It is likely that it was during the period of the exile – the years in which they heard the Enuma Elish – that they decided to write down their own oral tradition of creation and far from being one centred upon violence and destruction, it spoke of shalom and blessing. In the Hebrew understanding of things, the God who brought them out of Egypt and was somehow with them in their present captivity created the cosmos out of love; made human beings – men and women – in God’s image; looked at what had been made and called it ‘good’, not once, not twice, but seven times! This was radical. Outrageous, even. It said that God’s intention for creation was beauty and blessing; that goodness is in our very DNA and in the blueprint of everything that is; that the spectres of violence, pain, fear might well overshadow our lives at times but that God’s founding vision, and ultimately, our end destination, is one of interconnected goodness.
And if, like me, you’ve found this hard to believe recently, then allow me to introduce you to Erin…
Erin was welcomed into the world on Tuesday and has lit up the lives of Sarah and Dan – her parents and friends of our churches – ever since. She is beautiful and unique, loved and good. Which isn’t to say that she won’t encounter pain or hardship during her years – or even cause some of her own – because of course she will. That’s part of being human. But she will also know what it is to love and be loved; to make sandcastles and paddle in the sea; to form friendships, to eat pizza, to dance to music and laugh until she cries. Created in the image of the One who brings order from chaos, light from darkness, the dead from the grave, Erin will find wonder in creation, joy in relationship, grace in God.
So, thanks to Erin, I will dare to believe in original goodness. Thanks to those captives in Babylon, I will dare to believe that love and blessing, not violence and destruction, are the driving forces of creation. Thanks to the living God, I will dare to believe that the cosmos and its creatures are ‘tov’- good.
And I know it won’t be easy. I know there will be days when everything looks to be awful. I know I might have to take time to stop and look for the beauty around me; to pray for the person whose divinity I struggle to see; to practice self-care by having a break from the headlines and you might well need to do the same. But, for now, for today, I am able to believe in a loving God and a good creation; able to join in with the following affirmation.
If you are able to do the same, I invite you to join me in declaring it and if not – if personal pain or the horrors of the headlines mean you can’t right now – then I encourage you to allow others to believe it for you as you perhaps ask God to give you the strength and the hope to say:
With the whole Church,
we affirm that we are made in God’s image,
befriended by Christ, empowered by the Spirit.
With the Jewish captives in Babylon,
we affirm God’s goodness at the heart of humanity,
planted more deeply than all that is wrong.
With Erin, each other, and all creation,
we celebrate the miracle and wonder of life,
the unfolding purposes of God,
forever at work in ourselves and the world. Amen.
Prayers for ourselves and the world
“The Lord’s Prayer and Creation Care: A Litany of Confession.” Written by Revs. Bruce and Carolyn Gillette.
Loving God, we remember that Jesus taught us to pray saying, “Our Father…”
You created us, you made this world, and you called your creation very good. Yet often we forget that you are our loving Parent who continues to bless your world.
Jesus told us that you are “…in heaven…”
Yet we fail to live in awe of you. We take you for granted, and we don’t see the awesome beauty of the world you have made.
We pray, “Hallowed be your name…”
We confess that our reverence for you does not always lead us to care reverently for your earth, sky and sea.
We pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
We confess that we often put our own interests first-exploiting your creation, and living for our own convenience and self-interest.
We pray, “Give us today our daily bread.”
We confess that we consume more than our share of the world’s resources, while billions go hungry every day and your whole creation suffers.
We pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
We confess that we see these words only in spiritual terms, while the Bible is filled with teachings about economic justice and creation care.
We pray, “Save us from the time of trial.”
Help us to resist the temptations of spending more, using more, acquiring more, and wasting more.
We pray, “Deliver us from evil…”
Free us from greed and self-centredness that separate us from you and others.
We pray, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.”
Help us to know that in caring for your wonderful world, we are working for your kingdom, being good stewards of your creative power, and giving you glory.
We pray, “Amen.”
We end our prayers with “Amen,” a word that means “let it be so.” We know we can be faithful disciples by your grace. Amen!
As our service of worship comes to an end but our service out in the world begins afresh:
May we be blessed by God’s creation;
May we see ourselves as made in God’s image;
May we seek and find God’s goodness in every living thing this day and always. Amen.