I ended my last blog entry by asserting that biblical Christian spirituality is forever founded on the gritty reality of the created universe. And yet, that connection between creation and spirituality has become strained in technologically advanced societies.
The rhythms of life in the developed world have grown more and more disconnected from the natural markers of day and night, the change of seasons, and the essential connection to the earth through agriculture. Satellite imagery showing the earth at night reveals that, seen from space, nearly the entire northern hemisphere is visibly illuminated.
In such a world cycles of work and rest are determined by clocks and arbitrary schedules, not natural periods of day and night. In this setting the historic Anglican pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer helps reestablish our connection to natural cycles established by the Creator for the good of humanity and all of creation.
The Morning Prayer “Collect for the Renewal of Life” wonderfully illustrates this theme:
O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into the morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace; that, having done your will with cheerfulness during the day, we may, when night comes, rejoice to give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 99)
In a similar fashion, the collect for Saturday in Morning Prayer embraces themes of the hallowing of time, rest, preparation for Lord’s Day worship, and anticipation of the God’s coming kingdom (see Hebrews 4:9) that flow from the establishment of the Sabbath in Genesis chapter one:
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all you works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 99)
In both of these prayers, the cycles of day/night, work/rest are connected to deeper biblical truths that impact our relationship with God. In this way the natural world serves as a constant reminder that all of our life is lived in connection to our Lord.
One of the most beautiful expressions of how the simple change of day to twilight to evening can direct us back to the praise of God is the Phos Hilaron. The Phos Hilaron (literally, “cheerful light”) is an ancient hymn from the earliest days of the Christian Church. It is traditionally sung or said as an act of praise during Evening Prayer:
O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!
Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds. (BCP, 118)
The Book of Common Prayer also provides for Christian celebrations that are tied to agricultural cycles that unite contemporary urban/suburban Christians with the agricultural past. For instance, Rogation days (see, BCP, 18) find their legacy in the pre-Christian pagan processions intended to seek the deity’s assistance in warding off crop destroying mildew and blight.
Early on in the history of the Church, Christians appropriated this practice and redefined it in biblical terms. From late antiquity through the Reformation, Christian Rogation days involved processions through the fields to pray for the true and living God’s blessing on the crops. In the case of the English Church, Rogation Day processions also stopped the landmarks that defined parish boundaries.
While the purpose of Rogation days is not stated in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Common Worship resource of the Church of England provides this information: “Rogation Days are the three days before Ascension Day, when prayer is offered for God’s blessing on the fruits of the earth and on human labour.”
So while many of us might be disconnected from the production of food and the importance of agriculture these observances provide a powerful reminder that humanity is intimately tied to the natural world for sustenance. In fact these prayers and observances can particularly enrich the spirituality of those of us who are reconnecting with growing our own produce (and even raising our own chickens!) in urban and suburban contexts. While we may plant and tend and work, we recognize through these prayers that God is the ultimate source of every good and perfect gift.
The first and third prayers “For Rogations Days” in the prayer book effectively reestablish the link between God’s providence via the natural world and Christian spirituality:
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 258-259)
O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, 259)
In my next blog post I will begin to look at what is perhaps the most vital means of understanding our relationship to the environment: the sacramental worldview.
Ben has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Lisa, for 29 years. They are the parents of three lovely young women.
The Rev. Ben Sharpe has served in pastoral and church planting ministry for over 20 years. In 1995 he planted Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Fayetteville NC. In 2004 he and his family “came home” to the Anglican Mission in America. Ben received his undergraduate degree from the University of NC – Chapel Hill. He is a 1991 magna cum laude graduate (MDiv) from The Divinity School of Duke University.
Ben is deeply interested in early church history and sees our post-modern culture as significantly similar to the world the Church experienced for the first 400 years of the Christian era. He believes these connections offer direction for evangelism and discipleship in the 21st century.
Ben is an avid “section hiker” of the Appalachian Trail and claims his one athletic ability is carrying heavy objects over long distances. He also brews his own beer.
Most of all, Ben loves Jesus Christ, is passionate about the Gospel of salvation, and authentic Christian discipleship.
you can read more from his blog here