In honor of the Season of Creation (September 1 – October 4), Pray Tell is running a series of posts on how the liturgy can help us to appreciate the wondrous gift of Creation, and how it can challenge us to care for Creation. Each post will reflect on one of the seven days of Creation described in the first chapter of Genesis.
“Then God said: Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the seasons, the days and the years, and serve as lights in the dome of the sky, to illuminate the earth. And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to illuminate the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.”
Genesis 1:14–19, New American Bible, Revised Edition
The pivotal scene of the play Inherit the Wind, which is based on the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial, occurs when the defense attorney puts the prosecuting attorney (a self-proclaimed expert on the Bible) on the witness stand. Eventually the topic turns to the first Genesis creation account, and the defense attorney asks if God’s work on the first three days meant literal, twenty-four hour days, if the sun and moon—by which we mark the changing days—weren’t in place until the fourth day.
I read the play in sixth grade (because my older sister was reading it in her sophomore American Lit class—I was an irritating mimic little brother), and remember shaking with excitement as I read that scene, in which the prosecuting attorney admits that the “days” weren’t necessarily twenty-four hours long. But I also knew that the descriptions of those first three days each concluded with “evening came and morning followed,” which led me to wonder how that could have been—without a sun and moon—even if God had named the day and the night from the outset.
So I went to the pastor’s office, where I had spent much time the previous year with biblical questions. I had read the Bible straight through in fifth grade (having calculated that if you read five chapters a day you can accomplish this in a year), and I’d had a LOT of questions. That particular day I left placated, though not satisfied. However, the groundwork had been laid for me being able to grasp later in life that reading ancient literature with a modern mindset is not a good approach to take.
It was more than a decade later (while subbing for my undergrad organ professor at a Jewish congregation), when I heard a rabbi preach on Genesis 1, that I was alerted to the nuances of the various days of creation. God creates at the outset of the narrative, and brings light into being on day one, but then spends the next three days largely organizing what had been created: light/dark, sky/earth, land/waters (vegetation is brought forth after organizing the land/water, and seems to have already been a part of the land), sun/moon/stars. God returns to creating on days five and six, after all else has been organized.
As a musician, I can’t help but notice that the fourth day is partly organized through rhythm: the already-created light is organized through the populating of the heavens with the greater and lesser lights, which are then given their own cycles to guide the day and night, the seasons of the year, and the movement of the constellations in the sky. Though Genesis doesn’t articulate it as such, this day in Genesis also made possible—to a large extent—human worship of the Divine, our prayer times, sacred festivals (lunar and solar), and the exploration of mysteries beyond us. It may be too expansive a claim to say that the fourth day is when God created liturgy, but when God gave the celestial bodies their rhythms, the patterns were put in place by which we would know, honor, and celebrate our Creator.
When we reflect on God as Creator, it can be a bit dangerous to focus exclusively on God as a Divine Maker-of-Stuff. In the context of our culture—driven as it is by the making of things to be consumed—it’s hard to see that this is not the primary focus, and that it’s not healthy when we make it so. Woven into this is the long-held presumption that human beings are the crown or pinnacle of creation, with a certain accompanying sense of entitlement, if not outright arrogance, permeating that hypothesis. It might be humbler to recall that we are, first and foremost, among the creatures created on day six.
One of the ways we understand ourselves as being made in the image of God is through what we believe is our own ability to create. Perhaps it is time to re-think that, and to realize that we are truly made in the image of God the Organizer, and God the Rhythm-Giver. As “creators” we really do nothing but re-organize what God has already created. As George Burns says to John Denver in the movie Oh, God! “You want a miracle? You make a fish from scratch. You can’t. You think only God can make a tree? Try coming up with a mackerel.” (The longer, worth-reading quote is here.)
Through a self-image as organizers of creation, perhaps we can be more effective stewards and preservers of what God has created, ceasing our production of items that needlessly pillage and subsequently destroy the earth, the skies, and the waters. Let’s turn our imago Dei face toward a grateful and humble stewardship.
For those of us who work in the realm of liturgy, it may be time to take a fresh look at how the world and society around us has largely been re-rhythmed by artificial light, heating, and cooling, not to mention urbanization. Are there new ways to re-connect with the patterns of light and darkness? With the cycles of the seasons? How do we resurface the significance of the celebrations of the mysteries of Christ in an ongoing clash of calendrical priorities? In what ways can we re-attach the centrality of Christ to everyday life through the rhythms of Incarnation, Mission, Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection? It seems daunting, and may be a task that needed to be undertaken much earlier than now, but we are made in the image of the one whose Spirit also made us into the image of Christ in Baptism.
That same Spirit—the ruach Elohim—is the mighty wind sweeping over the waters of Genesis, the wind stirred by the flowing waters of the font. Whether creating, organizing, or bestowing rhythm, everything from God’s hand is good. Made in the image of God, may the same be true of us.