Father John O’Brien, a liturgist from my community, wrote an essay in 2004 entitled: “Thomas Berry, the Easter Vigil and the Greening of the Liturgy”
“This essay”, he wrote, “ argues that the next horizon of liturgical development will require a paradigm shift in understanding and spirituality. This is a shift from a present anthropocentrism to a new role and placement for creation. Although the liturgy has used the stuff of creation to celebrate the magnalia Dei, it has emphasized that water and food, bread and wine, soil and oil, rocks and rivers are at the service of the human community. Creation exists for human use and the promotion of human redemption. If this redemptive motif prevails, humankind may flourish into the immediate future. But the earth that sustains human life will be diminished and destroyed.”
The liturgy can help us acquire this new vision, John suggested, and the Easter Vigil might be a good place to start. The play of light and darkness in the vigil, the fire in the dark, the Genesis readings, the waters of baptism and blessing are reminders of creation in the Easter story. But in his essay John recognized that people weren’t exactly flocking to the Easter Vigil then. They’re not now.
Better to start with our daily liturgy, our daily prayer? Should we look more closely at what our prayers say and how we pray every day?
Daily prayer, particularly the psalms, can help us bond with creation. The reading from Isaiah this Tuesday says God’s word comes down from heaven like rain and snow, watering the earth and providing for the human family as well. Rain and snow are more than figures of speech, they’re messengers from God, beyond human control. Created by God they lead us to God, bestowing his gifts on us. God speaks daily through created things like these, the psalms say:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.
Day unto day pours forth speech;
night unto night whispers knowledge. (Psalm 19,2-4)
Morning with the rising sun, evening with the promise of new light, with a voice not heard, without speech or words, creation speaks for God and is promised a place in the new creation with us.
The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and Giver of Life”, “God adored and glorified along with the Father and the Son” sustains creation, Elizabeth Johnson writes in her book “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love” (2014). Key biblical images, powerful natural forces like blowing wind, flowing water, and blazing fire expand the notion of the active presence of the Spirit in the world God made.
At morning Mass candles are lit. Tongues of fire come upon us now. The fire that created the Big Bang billions of years ago is with us now, as the bread and wine, and water enter our cosmic prayer.
Can daily prayer, if we let it, give us eyes to see creation as our partner in praising God. Our readings this 1st week of Lent are about prayer. They begin Monday with the final judgment from Matthew’s gospel. Those judged ask “when did we see you” in the “the least.”
Can we say “the least” also includes creation, which today we have reduced to the least? Can prayer be a way of seeing it?