A Bishop’s Perspective — Juneau Empire column, June 23, 2013
To mark the beginning of summer and to rejoice in the glory of the beautiful weather we have had, this is a good time to reflect on the blessings of these summer months. The recent stories in the Juneau Empire have contributed to the joys and blessings of summer — looking for the full moon, tales of hiking, young people active in the water, etc. Having just marked the summer solstice I am reminded of the wisdom of the Creator as expressed through nature. There is an amazing order and harmony to nature and that wisdom is communicated to the human person. In the Catholic tradition we refer to this communication as the wisdom of the “book of nature”, that nature itself is revelatory of the wisdom, beauty, and goodness of the Creator. Thus we are drawn up into the study and contemplation of nature and can find ourselves lost in moments of awe, gratitude, and amazement before the immensity of it all. This is especially true in certain moments of life, in certain seasons.
The first line of Genesis reads, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1) According to Blessed Pope John Paul II, whose canonization is likely imminent, “the poetic style of the Genesis story conveys well the awe which people feel before the immensity of creation. It is a story of intense religious significance, a hymn to the Creator of the universe, pointing to him as the only Lord in the face of recurring temptations to divinize the world itself. At the same time, it is a hymn to the goodness of creation, all fashioned by the mighty and merciful hand of God.”
Yes, the language of Genesis is poetic, using a description of six days to capture the most profound aspects of the universe, such as the heavens and the earth, the light and the darkness, the waters and the dry land, the sky and the sea, vegetation, the stars, the day, the night, living and fertile creatures, and the human person amidst it all. It is rightly called “a hymn to the goodness of creation,” a type of a hymn that is often lost in contemporary accounts of reality but that nevertheless continues to communicate something essential about the absolute beauty and mystery of reality.
And lately, we have experienced an unbelievably nice stretch of warm and sunny weather. Indeed creation itself has been singing its praises in the laughing of the children playing outside, the visitors who are able to experience Juneau without rainwear, the explosion of rich shades of green in our beautiful hill- and mountainsides, and vibrant colors in the blooming flowers and the songs of the birds. The book of nature has opened up to us during this season of life and throughout the beauty we experience in Southeast Alaska.
In the Genesis hymn to the Creator there is a moment of a type of rest, the seventh day, the day that the Creator rests. The use of figurative and poetic language here communicates to us an essential aspect of being human. This part of the creation account communicates to us the importance not of a mere “rest” as in not doing anything, but instead recognizing and participating in a dimension of human dignity we often overlook. This recognition leads to a different type of participation than what we ordinarily do — work, worry, cook and clean. All of these are important parts of our daily lives, but there is something else, something specifically human that we are called to that fulfills our unique dignity as persons. Let us return to the words of Bl. John Paul II, “the divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God, but emphasizes the fullness of what has been accomplished. It speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the “very good” work (Gn 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight. This is a “contemplative” gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved.”
The temptation in contemporary culture with its frenetic pace is to forget or lose sight of the wisdom of being human and the gift of life itself. Summer offers a special season for children, for parents, for the young and the old, to enter into a type of sabbath rest, a rest that is less focused on utility, efficiency, and performance, but instead oriented toward play and vacation, prayer and contemplation, gratitude and friendship. Now that the Fourth of July is upon us, it is good to recognize that there is a season in which taking time off from our daily routine of work is essential in order to be fully human.