Preaching Mardi Gras
How does one preach on Mardi Gras? Lucky for me, the readings were fertile ground. Quite literally, even. So, here is today's mid-day prayer homily, based on the first mass reading, Genesis 1:20-2:4a.
For most of the last two years, I had the great fortune to live in San Diego at our novitiate. And if you live in San Diego for a limited time, you make the effort to spend time at the beach as often as possible. The ocean was a great solace to me at a time when everything within me was shifting and changing, taking on the identity of a religious. I could look over the waters and find God’s greatness in the immensity of the ocean, and great peace in the serene surface of blue.
Every once in a while, that blue surface broke to reveal a fin and a little arch of blue-grey —a dolphin, that is. Sometimes we would glimpse a whale far in the distance. While I found peace on the ocean’s calm surface, seeing these creatures reminded me that there is so much more out there. The mystery of that calm surface only hints at the abundance of fish in the sea, a great gift that comes to us from the mystery of God the Creator.
Out of mystery, God gives us great abundance. There is no doubt that creation holds all that we need to be and to thrive, and that all is a gift from God. Close your eyes and picture the flocks of birds that swirl through the blue sky, the sunshine that licks the waves, the wheat and corn fields of the Great Plains, the trees on mountaintops, and the sheep in green fields. Our earth provides the food we need, wood and brick to bring us shelter, the energy we use to light and heat our homes. God in great abundance provides for us all we need.
Abundance arises from mystery, and order is given to that abundance. The creation narrative tells us that each created being has a particular place in the created realm. Fish belong in the sea, birds in the air, cattle and other creatures on land.
So, the story is not just about the greatness of God’s bounty and creative ability. The story also gives us a structure, a proper order of the world and our place within it. Human beings are not just one more creature to creep on the earth and fill it. God creates us separately. Think of it: God created all the creeping wild animals (and that was good), and then God created man and woman in God’s own image. Not only are we created by God, but we are created to be like God. God gives us a special place in the order of creation -- to be fertile and multiply, and to fill the earth and take care of it. We are told that all this wonderful beautiful abundance is for our use and our enjoyment.
The creation of human beings was the cap, the height of the creative process. There is no randomness in the choice to place human creation at the end of the story. It tells us that human beings are closer to God than all other creatures. It tells us the final piece of the story: that all things have a purpose, and ultimately that purpose plays out in us. It’s a little like God was just warming up by creating the fish, birds, cattle, etc. When God gets to the height of creation, when God creates human beings, then God plays the great symphony. There is no encore: when human beings are created, then the concert is over, and we all bask in the glory of the Sabbath rest.
Our individual lives reflect both God’s abundance and God’s order. Out of God’s mystery, we receive an abundance of talents, abilities, courage, and strength to do what we need to do. We contribute to our world and our society in whatever ways we can, according to the gifts God gives us. Our faith tells us that we can call on God when we are in need, and that God will hear us and respond.
The order God places on creation is reflected in our own selves and in our relationships. We find order in our lives through increasing our self-knowledge. We try to recognize both our talents and our limitations. We strive to be the best unique person God created each of us to be. We also recognize who we are in God’s eyes—that we are not God, but that we are God’s creation, valued and loved by our Creator.
It seems that reminding ourselves of God’s abundance is appropriate on Mardi Gras, and we will do so with king cake, pancakes, sausage—however you celebrate today. As Lent begins, let us remember who we are and how we fit into this world. Lent offers us an opportunity to realign the order of our lives, in light of our relationships with God, and with our friends, families, and communities. We can begin by remembering the mystery of God in our lives, the abundance of gifts we receive out of that mystery, and the proper place we assign to our relationship with God.