For those of you who were in church last Sunday, the first reading was taken from the book of Genesis, and described a scenario involving a young couple (very young), a serpent, a certain tree, and God.
I believe you know the story. The woman and man in the garden were tempted by the serpent, and ate the fruit.
Call it what you want. Call it “the fall,” call it “original sin.” But what it was, was a game-changer.
Nothing was the same, but maybe not in the way you think. I love the way one writer explains it:
When Eve bit into the apple, she gave us the world as we know the world—beautiful, flawed, dangerous, full of being... Even the alienation from God we feel as a direct consequence of her Fall makes us beholden to her: the intense desire for God, never satisfied, arises from our separation from him.[i]
Whether you hear the story of the garden as orthodoxy or parable, as history or myth, it speaks a profound truth: throughout our history, we humans have felt alienated from God.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water… ~ Psalm 63:1
No wonder, then, that we try to “get back to the garden,” as Joni Mitchell so famously wrote and sang. One of the ways we do that, it by prayer. And one of the most ancient approaches to prayer is to think of our day, and imagine how we would like to remind ourselves of God’s presence throughout it.
One of the simplest plans, the easiest to remember, certainly, is to pray first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning… ~ Lamentations 3:22-23a
If we want to remind ourselves in the morning of the fresh new evidence of God’s steadfast love and mercies, we have many, many options…
· We can open our eyes and seek the sun, and give thanks, right there, for another dawn, and for eyes that have lived to see another day.
· We can get out of bed and do something like a yoga salute to the sun: a stretch that reminds us of the gift of our bodies, which we can do with thanks and joy.
· We can get in the shower and let the water remind us of our baptism, and the joy of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s wisdom that the morrow is “a new day, fresh, with no mistakes in it.”
· We can reach for a prayer book or a devotional booklet, and read and ponder the prayers and/ or scripture we find there.
· We can start the day with the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us that God is holy, that God’s reign approaches, that we can do what we need to align ourselves with God’s will; and in which we pray for the things we need in the day to come.
· We can go online and find a daily devotional there, often with nice music accompanying it!
Morning prayer can be as simple as “Good morning God, thank you for this day!” and it can be as leisurely as a half hour with scripture.
There is no wrong choice. There is only delaying the right choice.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night… ~ Psalm 63:5-6
If we want to bookend our day with prayer, and pray in the evening or at night, we might make some different choices.
· Evening or night is the time to give thanks for the blessings of the day… not just the good things that happened, but the mundane things, too. The walk to the mailbox. The pleasure of a beautifully story sky. The feeling of wellness after an illness.
· In the evening we may want to review our day… to remember the things that didn’t feel much like blessings… not to chew over and over, but to release into God’s loving care.
· In the evening, we may want to light a candle during our prayer, to remind us that Christ is our light, and thanks be to God!
· We may want to pray around a table.
· We may want to end our day with God’s Word… words of assurance from scripture, or a favorite psalm. Many people love Psalms 23 or 139, Psalm 40, or maybe even the psalm we have been praying this evening: Psalm 63.
As with morning prayer, there is no wrong choice.
And be gentle with yourself. Watch for the prayers that arise without your planning for them… the appearance of the first star in the evening sky, the first bite of a perfectly ripe pear, the feeling of pulling the sheets up over your tired legs. Moments like these can find us giving thanks or expressing joy or experiencing wonder… and that is prayer, too.
I’ll end with an evening prayer from the Book of Common Worship of the PCUSA. For me, so often, this is the perfect way to end the day.
Keep watch, dear Lord,
with those who work, or watch, or weep this night,
and give your angels charge over
those who sleep.
Tend the sick, Lord Christ;
give rest to the weary,
bless the dying,
soothe the suffering,
pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous;
and all for your love's sake. Amen.
[i] Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, “A Meditation on Eve,” from Out of the Garden: Women Writers on the Bible, Celina Spiegel and Christina Buchmann, eds. (New York, NY: Ballentine Books, 1995), 1.