The prayer I share today was written by Walter Rauschenbusch (a Baptist pastor from the late 1800's and early 1900's). The prayer voices his belief that the Kingdom of God is not merely concerned with a future hope of heaven, but is about transforming life on earth into a state of harmony with heaven—actively doing what can be done to bring the kingdom of God to earth. His theology influenced such people as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu.
The prayer recalls us to the wonder of this amazing world, and our relationship and responsibility to it. With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) currently taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, it can also be used as a prayer for corporate repentance and decision-making.
Before sharing the prayer, I offer three prominent themes I see within the prayer.
This "great home" of ours is a place of extraordinary hugeness and fullness. Its elements of land, air, and water are amazing in and of themselves and also support the life and beauty that is present across its breadth. Within that sphere of life is a teeming community of life—abundant, varied, breathtaking. The member list of that community is longer than we could possibly list, but it is imperative that we remember that variety, acknowledge the value of each member, and maintain a stance of gratitude that we have been given this home in the company of the myriad of other creatures who have been given this very same home.
In addition to the home itself, we have also been given the ability to perceive it through our senses and thus absorb its wonder into ourselves. It is present around us every day, and as long as we open ourselves to encountering it and break down walls of preoccupation that come between us and the created world, we can encounter everywhere the glory of God. It lights up the bush "aflame with the glory of God," and is present within the sky, the earth, each and every creature. Just one of these encounters can transform our attitude into thankfulness.
We share this home with other creatures who, though different from us, are fellow creatures, and thus members of our family. This prayer leads us to look at the harm we have caused to these other creatures, largely due to the feeling of superiority we easily fall into. When we fail to see their significance and intrinsic value, apart from their value to us, we fall into using and exploiting them in ways that harm them and their ability to live as they were intended to live. Although our exploitation of them may seem to benefit us, it harms us as well as we, too, become less than we were intended to be.
Where we should see family resemblances and see our responsibility to care for and value the other, instead we too often cause harm to these other parts of creation, and thus interfere with their own voices of praise. We have closed our eyes and ears to voices that are not human and thus given ourselves permission to disregard every voice that was not human, living in ways that make us into tyrants rather than thoughtful members of the family of creation.
Finally, the prayer recognizes the limitations of our own lives. Our lives will end, sooner rather than later, and the mark we leave behind us on this home can be either something that creates joy or something that creates grief. This is a great question for all of us to consider: Is our presence beneficial or detrimental to the earth which is our home? Have we only taken from it, or have we given to it in a way that makes it more beautiful and healthy than it would otherwise be? Will it be a loss or a gain to the earth when we are gone?
With these introductory thoughts, I share this prayer from Walter Rauschenbusch. As we walk through this prayer, may it guide us into deeper awe and appreciation of the world around us. May we allow ourselves to vividly experience that living world. May it open us into repentance in areas where we have exercised high dominion instead of love and care. May it help us to see our responsibility to the future more clearly and enliven our desire to leave this world better as a result of our having been here.
O God, we thank thee for this universe, our great home; for its vastness and its riches, and for the manifoldness of the life which teems upon it and of which we are part. We praise thee for the arching sky and the blessed winds, for the driving clouds and the constellations on high. We praise thee for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills, for the trees and for the grass under our feet. We thank thee for our senses by which we can see the splendor of the morning, and hear the jubilant songs of love, and smell the breath of the springtime. Grant us, we pray thee, a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty, and save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thorn-bush by the wayside is aflame with the glory of God.
Enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all the living things, our little brothers, to whom thou hast given this earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised the high dominion of man with ruthless cruelty, so that the voice of the Earth, which should have gone up to thee in song, has been a groan of travail. May we realize that they live not for us alone, but for themselves and for thee, and that they love the sweetness of life even as we, and serve thee in their place better than we in ours.
When our use of this world is over and we make room for others, may we not leave anything ravished by our greed or spoiled by our ignorance, but may we hand on our common heritage fairer and sweeter through our use of it, undiminished in fertility and joy, that so our bodies may return in peace to the great mother who nourished them and our spirits may round the circle of a perfect life in thee.
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