I am often visited by the kind of insomnia that makes it difficult to fall asleep, and, once asleep, makes it difficult to stay asleep. The other morning at 4 am I jolted awake because I got too hot, as the Missouri spring just can’t make up its darned mind whether we are still in spring or in on the verges of summer, which is sometimes akin to the verges of Hades.
I tried to read my way back into sleep, but after about 20 minutes I noticed something. Inexorably, even over the sound of he air conditioner I had kicked on, the air outside our bedroom was filling with the sounds of birds. Even though in my house, most of my family slept on in a cocoon of darkness thanks to walls and window-shades, the birds knew differently. The time of darkness was ending, and daylight was on its way.
So I got up again and went outside. The birds were out there assiduously singing the dawn into being. All different kinds of birds were trilling, tweeting, peeping, chirping. The hooting of owls was subsiding and the cooing of the morning doves was increasing in cadence. Snatches of song wove themselves together into a tapestry of joy. It was a positive cacophony out there.
The song of the birds was necessary to will the dawn into existence. All kinds of noises bubbled up from their hiding-places in the trees and shrubs, like a city street at midday, but with the car sounds replaced by birds. There was not a hint of natural light discernible but for the stars, but the birds knew dawn was coming, and they were determined to sing it into being. Their music seemed to draw the light from the east. The world turned its way into dawn the way a dreaming child turns into their covers and sleeps on as her parent tries to gently awaken her. The birds recognized the pull of the light across the sky as though a gossamer veil was slowly being pulled back, and their songs reflected the joy of the approach of another day, filled with possibilities. I had noticed this same pattern last summer while sleeping in a room open to the rainforests in mountains of St. Lucia, where the tree-frogs also took their part in the symphony of sound that subtly shifted between night and day, but I had forgotten or perhaps I thought it was part of the exotic tropical habitat that surrounded us.
And then I thought about one of the readings we heard yesterday in church: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1-4a).
We heard the entire first creation story on Sunday at our parish, all the way to chapter 2. Looking at the story, several things spoke to me. Each time God creates something, God speaks it into being: “Let there be light;” “Let there be a dome in the midst of the water, separating the waters;” “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” The light is created first, illuminating and making clear the goodness of each part of creation. God speaks the light, and the dome, the sun, moon and stars and the Earth into existence, and all are declared to be good.
Then, an interesting thing happens: God enlists what has already been created to help in bringing forth new things into life. God commands the Earth to bring forth vegetation- grains, fruit trees and vegetables- and living things of all kinds. God commands the waters to bring forth all kinds of living things, and places the sea monsters and the fish within the seas. God creates order out of chaos, and God does it with a word and with the cooperation of creation. Perhaps, in one way, the dawn can’t really come into being without the birds there to sing it into being. Perhaps they are singing dawn into being with echoes of the ancient words that separated the darkness from the light in the very beginning, and in harmony with that ancient command to take part in creation, too. Their song begins to laud and magnify the works of God, and that song continues throughout the day.
Some people like to focus on the part of the story where God places all the living things under the dominion of humanity, as if we have the right to do with creation what we want. Yet, if we read the story carefully, we are created as part of a vast array of creatures of all kinds, within creation rather than over creation, and creation cooperates together, “the heavens and earth and all their multitudes.” We are given responsibility to tend and care for creation from within creation, not separated from it.
All of creation works together for the praise of God. The ancient monastics used to arise early in the morning for Lauds, or dawn prayer, but most of us have become alienated to the rhythm of the day, which in many ways echoes the rhythm of creation. Especially in the summer, most of us rise long after that transition from darkness to light has occurred. Unlike the birds, perhaps we don’t get to sing the dawn into being each day, giving glory to the Love that makes all of creation one, and that makes God One: Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver. But we get the privilege of hearing that song of creation, if we listen carefully enough, and that song calls us to respond with all of our being. And indeed, that is very good.
Leslie Scoopmire is a newly retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She will attend Eden Theological Seminary beginning in the fall of 2014. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.