Here are the opening lines for Tuesday mornings from Bp. Andrewes’ Private Prayers. They form a meditation regarding God’s work on the “Third Day,” as found in Genesis. They are part of the weekly cycle Andrewes composed for his personal use. Each day’s prayers begin with such a commemoration of God’s creative work. Together, they form a deeply engaging study of the Biblical understanding of nature, and our place in it.
Blessed are you, Lord,
who by drawing the water into sea,
caused dry land to appear,
and let the earth produce growth of plants
and fruit-bearing trees.
From the Abyss came
the depths & the sea – as in a bottle;
lakes, rivers, springs.
From that which was without form came
earth, continents, islands,
mountains, hills, valleys,
farmland, meadowland, woods.
From the Void came
corn for bread,
herbs and flowers;
Trees yielding fruit,
wine, oil, spices, and
Things under the earth:
stones, metals, and minerals;
blood and fire and a turmoil of smoke (Joel 2:30)
(As translated by David Scott)
Andrewes’ use of imagery always fascinates me here. He uses both the language of God’s creative power (“from the Void came…”) but also weaves the human into the Creation by showing us the benefits of God’s work to us (“farmland,” “pleasure,” “healing,” wine,” &c.). The 17th century world in which he lived still understood humanity as a fully integrated part of the whole of the created order -- not master or detached observer. What would it be like to return to this? Perhaps this is one of the ways Native cultures can speak to our spiritual poverty.
Andrewes' peaceful mind recalls meadowland and woodlands… places he probably enjoyed taking the boys of the classes he taught; yet, he also ends with that mysterious and mildly disconcerting quote from Joel… “blood and fire and turmoil of smoke.” This recollection of the Hebrew “spiritual geography” of the Creation reminds us of the awesome power – both live-sustaining and life-taking – to be found in God’s handiwork. I always come away from this particular meditation being both charmed by (in much the same way I am by reading C.S. Lewis’ accounts of Narnia, say) and made aware of the inherent mystery of the Created order. This seems to me to be the way humanity was – and is – called to relate to the material world. I am deeply thankful that Bishop Andrewes saw fit to integrate his deep Biblical and Patristic piety with a right appreciation for that “other book” God left us to study: the Creation.