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Let all things their Creator bless

19 February 2016

Andrew Davison explores the themes of creation in prayer and liturgy

Photoservice Electa/Universal Images Group/SuperStock

Benedicite, omnia opera: set to chant and illuminated by an anony­mous Sienese scribe in the 15th cent­ury

Benedicite, omnia opera: set to chant and illuminated by an anony­mous Sienese scribe in the 15th cent­ury

LISTS provide a surprisingly good way to rejoice in creation. Think of the “Canticle of the Sun”, associated with Francis of Assisi and found in our hymn books as “All creatures of our God and king”; or of the Benedicite, with lines such as these (from the Common Worship translation):

 

Bless the Lord you springs: bless the Lord you seas and rivers;
bless the Lord you whales and all that swim in the waters: sing his praise and exalt him for ever.

 

Psalm 148 is another example, as is a wonderful text attributed to Notker the Stammerer (840-912). Often called the “Alleluyatic Sequence”, because of the predominance of that word, it calls all of creation to praise God:

 

To God, Who all creation made,
The frequent hymn be duly paid:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

The variety of creation it explores is charming:

 

The planets beaming on their heavenly way,
The shining constellations join, and say,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

encompassing both “Ye clouds that onward sweep”, and “Ye days of cloudless beauty”, as well as “the birds with painted plumage gay” and “the beasts of earth, with varying strain”.

Hymn-writers seem to like thinking about creation in conjunction with times of the day. There’s both “The day thou gavest, Lord” (John Ellerton) and Joseph Addison’s “The spacious firmament on high”, which is themed around day, evening, and night.

Simply marking the cycle of the day with morning and evening prayer is perhaps the most profound way in which Christian prayer remembers creation.

The lunar cycle still pokes through, too, by determining the date of Easter. That (along with not losing touch with our Jewish roots) is good reason to keep the current pattern.

 

CREATION-themed hymns make fruitful connections with other parts of Christian doctrine. A favourite, “For the beauty of the earth”, points to the Eucharist — at least in its original form, in which the verses ended not with ”Lord of all, to thee we raise/This our grateful hymn of praise”, but rather “Christ, our God, to Thee we raise/This our sacrifice of praise.”

A popular harvest hymn, “Come, ye thankful people” (Henry Alford) is just as much about the Last Things:

 

For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take his harvest home;
From his field shall purge away
All that doth offend, that day;
Give his Angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In his garner evermore.

 

One of the more recent volumes of Common Worship, “Times and Seasons”, provides liturgical resources for “the agricultural year” (so much more than just harvest). Almost every part of the Eucharist is covered, such as this introduction to confession: “God’s whole creation groans. The land produces thorns and thistles and longs to be set free. Our sin affects all around us. We confess our sins in penitence and faith.”

For Plough Sunday (First Sunday of Epiphany), there are blessings for a plough and for seed (although, reflecting the current, rather half-hearted Church of England attitude towards blessings, neither prayer quite blesses anything properly).

 

THE 18th century produced some good, earth-focused anthems, including William Boyce’s “O where shall wisdom be found?” and Maurice Greene’s “Thou visitest the earth” (part of his larger “Thou, O God, art praised in Sion”) .

Texts drawn from the Song of Songs often abound in creation references, including a tiny gem set by Antoine Brumel, running to just nine words: Sicut lilium inter spinas, sic amica mea inter filias — “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters [of Adam]” — which must be one of the most simple and perfect expressions of love in all literature.

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20 September 2021
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25 September 2021
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