St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 7 May 2020
Led by Rev Professor Kenneth M Boyd
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1. 28 to 31
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
So God created humankind 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 fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Amen
To have dominion to fill the earth and subdue it, is a double-edged sword in the hand of humanity: to learn to use it takes wisdom and practice. Increasingly, especially over recent centuries, humanity has been filling the earth and subduing it, making the benefits of science and civilization more and more widely available, enabling more and more people to live healthy and fulfilling lives. But then, something happens to make humanity pause and wonder about the direction it is taking. Just over the horizon of living memory, the tragedies of the 1914-1918 war cruelly checked the seemingly unstoppable progress of 19th century industrial and colonizing civilization. The coronavirus pandemic may provide another such moment for reflection, coming as it does amid increasing concern for the future of the environment, and reminding humanity that no one and no nation is anymore an island.
The wisdom and practice humanity needs in such circumstances can be gained only painstakingly and over time, by human patience, human effort, and human intelligence. The ancient Hebrew authors of Genesis provide no detailed prescriptions for resolving today’s scientific, political and ethical questions. Their timeless teaching is inscribed in the inspired myths they made, which endure because they approach closer, perhaps than any other myths or philosophies, to the deepest truth of all. If, as the Genesis myths suggest, human beings have been given the task of what is nowadays called ‘playing God’, then, the Scriptures imply, this can be done without disaster only by learning to grow into the maturity of the likeness of God in which they were made, only by becoming what the myth tells them in God’s eyes they are. ‘And God saw everything that he had made’, including humankind, ‘and indeed it was very good’.
On my daily walk recently, my path crossed at an appropriate distance with a neighbour’s; and we exchanged a few words about how people were reacting to the current circumstances. It wasn’t all bad, we agreed; and as we parted, my neighbour concluded, “There’s a lot of good in people, as my old dad used to say”. My neighbour’s old dad was right. Of course there is a lot that’s not yet good in people: that’s why, as societies as well as individuals we repeatedly need to be forgiven and forgive. Only so are we enabled to grow further into the maturity of the likeness of God. But just so, just as God ‘saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good’: just so, we need the courage to see and encourage the good in ourselves, the good in one another, the good in all creation.
A Sixteenth Century Prayer of Thanksgiving by Bishop Lancelot Andrews
We thank you, O Lord our Lord, for our being, our life, our gift of reason;
for our nurture, our preservation and guidance;
for our education, civil rights and religious privileges;
for Thy gifts of grace, of nature, of this world;
for our calling, recalling and renewed recallings by Thy forbearance and long suffering.
For all the benefits we have received and all the undertakings wherein we have prospered;
for any good we may have done; for the use of the blessings of this life;
for Thy promise, and our hope of the enjoyment of good things to come;
for good parents, gentle teachers, congenial companions, sincere friends;
for all who have profited us by their writings, conversations, prayers, examples.
For all these, and also for all mercies, known and unknown, open and secret,
remembered by us or now forgotten, and for all kindnesses received by us.
We praise Thee, we thank Thee, and will praise and thank Thee all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Fifth Century Prayer for Sufferers by St Augustine of Hippo
Watch Thou, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep to-night,
and give thine angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend thy sick ones, O Lord Christ; rest thy weary ones;
bless thy dying ones; soothe Thy suffering ones;
and all for Thy Love’s sake. Amen
Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection let us commit one another.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen
Johannes Brahms Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele