“How glorious is your name over all the earth! You have exalted your majesty above the heavens” (Psalm 8:2)
The marvelous poetic stories of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:4a and 2:4b-25) begin with the relationship of darkness and light and with the filling of the earth with humans and all other creatures. Throughout the Old Testament we see the interplay of light and darkness and observe human beings interacting with all of creation.
The Psalms speak to us of God’s glory in the heavens and on the earth. Psalm 104 parallels the creation story. It begins with a magnificent hymn praising God’s creative wisdom and power and speaks of God as clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak (2). In a similar way Psalm 27:1 speaks of light: “God is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear?”
Again and again in the psalms we pray to God about the wonders of creation: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge” (Psalm 19:2-3). Throughout the ages the faithful have proclaimed, “How glorious is your name over all the earth! You have exalted your majesty above the heavens” (Ps. 8:2).
Before continuing this part of the retreat, go outside (or look out your window). See the brightness of the sun with its shadows or admire the stars and moon of the night sky. Let some of the words from the psalms echo through your mind and heart.
In other parts of the Old Testament, especially in the books of the prophets and in wisdom literature, we can find splendid descriptions of God’s glory. In this beautiful passage from Isaiah we see reflected God’s care for the entire world:
“Rise up in splendor! Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
But upon you the Lord shines,
and over you appears God’s glory” (Isaiah 60:1-2)
The Book of Wisdom sings of the glory of wisdom, which is God’s glory:
“For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of God’s goodness.”
In Solomon’s prayer personified Wisdom describes understanding of the universe:
“For you gave me sound knowledge of existing things,(Wisdom 7:17-22)
that I might know the organization of the universe
and the force of its elements,
The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times,
the changes in the sun’s course
and the variations of the seasons.
Cycles of years, positions of the stars, natures of animals,
tempers of beasts,
Powers of the winds and thoughts of men,
uses of plants and virtues of roots–
Such things as are hidden I learned,
and such as are plain;
for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me.”
Wow! This description, written over 2100 years ago, speaks today to all of us! Scientists see light and dark as essential components of the universe as they work toward scientific understandings of the beginnings of the cosmos.
The writing of first-century Paul the Apostle continue to show the living out of the Christian life in the context of the whole Mediterranean world. He tells the Romans: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are God’s judgments and how unsearchable God’s ways!”(Romans 11:34). This letter is Paul’s thesis about the meaning of Christianity. He writes: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life,…nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).
For Paul Christ is the light and life of the world. Throughout his letters and the Acts of the Apostles Paul shows us how to be Jesus’ disciples and members of the Mystical Body. In his letters to the various Christian communities of his day he encourages the followers of Jesus’ Way (and us) to live for God’s glory and to prepare for the fullness of time.
In his letter to the Colossians Paul proclaims Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creatures…He is before all else that is. In him everything continues in being… It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him, and by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross” (1: 15-20).
Christian discipleship challenges all of us to promote and live in peace. It involves responding to the spiritual gifts of others and to our own gifts. Paul advises us that many spiritual gifts are given to each of us for the benefit of all: not only peace but also wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and love (1 Cor. 12:4-9). As we read these words today, we can apply them to a much broader scope including how we live with our global environment.
Paul’s known world, largely the Mediterranean area, differed greatly from the ever-expanding universe we know today in the 21st century. But the invitation to discipleship of Jesus, as described by both John and Paul, extends to us in a global way. The whole universe cries out to us to hear its need for compassion and justice.
- As a Christian disciple how can you respond to this truly “awesome” concept?
- Which of the spiritual gifts that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and love) do you live out most strongly for the benefit of the earth community?
- What more can you do with this gift?
Chose one of the above questions, and list very specific ways in which you could live out your role as a Christian disciple today. Write down your reflections in your journal so that later you can see how you are expanding your insights about discipleship in this day and age.
The Fourth Gospel in the New Testament begins with these cosmic words:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him
and without him nothing came to be.
the light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1: 1-5).
These words speak in poetic language about the beginning of the universe. This gospel presents a progressive revelation of God’s glory and love. Light and darkness permeate this gospel as they do the creation story in the book of Genesis. This gospel emphasizes the struggle between light and darkness with the light ultimately overcoming the darkness.
This disciple/gospel writer can inspire us in our belief and love. He was the eyewitness to all the final events of Jesus life, leading us through the account of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus. We can learn from this disciple that the greatest role of every Christian is to hear the word of God; believe in Jesus as son of God; love Jesus and all other people; act on and live out this love.
The heart of Jesus’ message, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” is not easy. From reading the New Testament we know how Jesus’ disciples struggled to follow him. We learn how often they didn’t understand, how they were sometimes jealous of one another, how they were sometimes weak or afraid. Maybe it is a comfort for us to know that many times they did not measure up as disciples.
Nevertheless Jesus’ disciples after encountering him began to follow him, to listen to him, to observe his loving words and actions. They remained with him, journeyed with him, helped to bring his love to others, witnessed to him, and proclaimed him.
Now, as a Christian disciple of the 21st century, think about how to contribute to the struggle to secure the future well-being of the Earth. We are warned that the world is getting hotter, stormier, more crowded, and less biodiverse. How can we follow the Christian gospel and live in a way that is ecologically just and socially responsible?
A helpful way to discover how you are following Jesus daily as a disciple is to ask yourself: how did I encounter Jesus today:
- in praying?
- in giving or receiving kindness?
- in being concerned about the environment?
- by being a peacemaker at home or at work?
Then ask yourself whether your encounters have led you to deeper faith or love. Can you resonate with Jesus’ words, spoken to all ages: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10)?