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 the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: tame animals, crawling things, and every kind of wild animal. And so it happened: God made every kind of wild animal, every kind of tame animal, and every kind of thing that crawls on the ground. God saw that it was good. Then God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth.
God created mankind in his image;
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth. God also said: See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild animals, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food. And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.” Genesis 1:24-31
With a simple call, “Let there be light,” God began the world, separating the dome of sky from the dry land and gathering the ocean pools. God planted a garden of trees and fruits, filled the sea with fish, and the sky with birds (and probably pterodactyls). God numbered the stars in the sky, and set two great lights to govern the night and day.
All of this was very good, and yet things were only beginning to get interesting.
On the sixth day of creation, God created the first creatures who occupied the great middle earth—the ones who could look up to see the sky, and bend down to touch the waters, but ones who neither dwelt in the sea nor in the trees, but laid their heads upon the great green earth. Every one of these creatures—wild tigers and tame sheep, crawling turtles and creeping mice—filled its unique space in the terrestrial ecosystem, playing a critical role in maintaining the beautiful balance of life God created (cf Laudato Si’ 34). Each one had a role to play, and a mouth to be fed.
And yet, God chose not to stop with pterodactyls and turtles. God insisted on creating a mammal that not only had a mouth to feed, but a mouth that could talk back.
God created ’ādām, human beings in God’s image—in the image of God they were created, male and female they were created (Gen 1:27).
God called all the creatures to be fruitful and multiply, and named all creatures great and small “good,” but, the humans, God blessed. The humans were to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the other creatures of the land. Evening came, and morning followed — the sixth day.
True, our Genesis creation accounts quickly move from the perfect peace experienced by all of creation, to the trouble that these creatures—particularly those with the mouths that talked back — get themselves into . . . by chapter 3! The “Fall” of humanity, banishment from the Garden, and subsequent spiral into sin and separation end up having implications not only for God’s relationship with women and men—but in the destruction and recreation of God’s beautiful world (Genesis 6-9).
So, what can we learn from focusing on the sixth day of creation as a point of reflection?
Creativity is a gift of God
Creation can surely be described as an act of creativity. Yet, we usually associate “creativity” with “spontaneity.” As Christians, we believe that God has a plan for all of creation—and God has a plan for all of us, as we read in Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you…”). This seems hardly spontaneous—and yet I find it difficult to imagine that God is not “creative.” Rather, God, by God’s very nature, is creative—the source and founder of all ingenuity, beauty, and surprises. What humans are afraid to imagine, God already knows.
What might God’s creativity have to tell us? My little toddler creates worlds—worlds where I’m not entirely sure what laws of physics are meant to apply. And, she has a joyous time doing it, whether it’s creating a feast out of play food, energetically talking with her menagerie of stuffed animals at 6:30 in the morning, or carting rocks through the backyard into her sandbox. We, intelligent, opinion-filled adults can’t see what she sees—but to her, creativity is boundless, and joy is found in the making.
The one thing we try not to do—from experience—is interrupt this creative process. She, for lack of a better word, finds it extremely annoying. Likewise, if we interrupt God’s creative process in the world—what does this look like? Allowing the Amazon rain forest to burn without a concern? Letting our car run in the parking lot, spewing out unnecessary carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? Continuing to insist on those plastic straws? Does our ignorance, our inability to see the beauty, or the larger pattern at play, lead to disruptive indifference toward our environment?
God doesn’t want us to ignore or squash creativity, but to take part in it—and rejoice.
We (thankfully) don’t know the future
Adam and Eve were placed in paradise—they didn’t know that in mere moments they would be barred from that perfection with a fiery sword and domineering cherubim. Likewise, God may know what our future holds—but I have to say I’m glad that I don’t. But, because we are God’s creatures who have been touched by the light of Christ, we have been taught to hope: hope in the future, hope in goodness, hope in peace, and hope in a great restoration with our God which will last from age to age unending.
And yet hoping is so difficult—while worrying is so easy. I know, because I have what can only be described as a “genetic proclivity” toward incessant worrying. My grandmother worried that the piano in the living room would fall through the floor. My mother worries that my refrigerator might catch on fire while I’m on vacation. I worry about everything else (just ask me how I freak out if my husband’s late coming home—the stories are too long to share here).
If I knew that my daughter would experience “x” difficulty, or my husband and I would have to decide about “y” at some point, or that the next political fiasco would be “z,” I feel I’d simply sink into despair. God doesn’t give us more to worry about at one time than we can, assumedly, handle. As we hear from Jesus in Matthew 6:34, “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.”
We don’t know what the future will hold with respect to our fragile world. I worry about the natural disasters that have displaced thousands in the Caribbean this hurricane season. I worry about the self-imposed human disasters which have put untold numbers of migrants and refugees at risk as they make their way to Europe . . . or the United States. I worry about mass shootings and children hiding in closets and dark rooms at their grade schools.
Worrying will do nothing. Acting may do a little, even if it’s only my donation to Catholic Relief Services. God wants us to hope and work for a better world.
We are, at the end of the day, still good
Despite the unknowns, the struggles, and the sadness we know unfolds for God’s creation and creatures—we also know that God has named us good. And God does not speak empty words; God only speaks truth. Therefore, despite the evil which penetrates our world—poisoning our atmosphere and oceans, as well as our minds and hearts—our world is still good, we are still good, and we have the potential to do good in and for the world.
Believing in goodness is perhaps the hardest of all because it involves both creative joy and hope. How can we believe in “goodness” when we are so regularly confronted with death, destruction, deceit, and a wide world so full of problems that even a U.N. Global Climate Summit is described as receiving “few commitments” and “silence.”
Believing in goodness requires us to look beyond what we see in the present to some creative new realm—and to hope beyond what we believe to be possible. It is so easy to see imperfections and impossibilities. It is much harder to recognize the good.
Certainly, we cannot deny the challenges combating us and all creation. But neither can we deny God’s call to be and do good in this world. We are called to recognize the world—of infinite beauty and goodness—as magnifying the Lord (LS 12). We are called to work for the “common good,” which supports all human flourishing (LS 17), and to recognize even the earth’s climate as a crucial “common good” required for the good of all (LS 23).
Our Creator God is one who can only be described as having “goodness beyond measure” (LS 77). We, created by God to sustain and care for the earth, have as our God-inscribed duty to recognize and celebrate the goodness of the world and to be good in the world—even if a flaming sword still bars the way to paradise.
In the end, the sixth day of creation reveals more to us than the first stage appearance of Adam and Eve. Remembering the sixth day of creation calls us to remember that “all of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation” (LS 14). May we use our creativity, our hope, and our stalwart belief in God who allows us, too, to look at creation—and call it good.
Still to come, in the series on Creation:
Teresa Berger on Day Seven.