For more reflections on the Basilica Hymns of each season, purchase Perpetual Jubilee: Meditations on the Chaldean Liturgical Year on Amazon.com.
Looking Around Us
One of the most natural sentiments of our Chaldean spiritual tradition is to gaze upon the world around us and stand in awe at the Creator. This might seem redundant to say – indeed, don’t all Christians affirm that God created the universe, and don’t all human beings find fascination in the world around them? Though that should ideally be the case, the complexity of human nature has proven otherwise. Many Christians, looking at the suffering and evil in this world, and looking forward to the perfect beatitude of heaven, can have a tendency to ignore or even look down upon this world, and to consider its beauty and order as flawed because it is not that of heaven. Even more so, theology aside, not every human being is able to see the marvel and wonder of nature. This may be because of any number of reasons: he may be embittered because of some particular evil that has found its way into his life; he may be consumed with some inner desire and unable to reflect on anything aside from it; he may be too busy even to pay attention! Indeed, though every spirit – every “rational creature” – was designed by the Creator to appreciate the beauty of the world, not all do. It takes a soul sensitive enough to notice and loving enough to make the effort to see the beauty of the natural world – and one humble enough to marvel at the “partialness” of the beauty of this world even in light of the perfect beauty of the world to come.
It is exactly this type of soul that is reflected in many of the writings of the Chaldean Church of the East. In the Basilica Hymn of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are reminded of what a gift God gave us when he created the world for our sake – and this at an appropriate time. During Lent we turn away – not from “this world” in the sense of creation itself – but from the desires that are excessive and shallow and which keep us far from God. On the contrary, it is only when these misplaced emotions are put in check and mastered that we can truly appreciate the beauty and loveliness God has shown us even in this world.
The Movement of the World
Let us then turn to the reflection of God’s light we find in the world he made: “This world, in its construction, prepares and awakens rational creatures daily to the wonder and glory of that wise Creator.” The author of our hymn is here fascinated mostly with the “construction” or “ordering” of the world, which he explains in more detail later. But we should notice here that the universe is the subject of two verbs – to “prepare” and to “awaken.” Before we even consider the two verbs, we should realize a very important fact: the universe is not a passive “thing.” It is not inactive or still or boring. In itself it is active and energetic and dynamic with power and movement. Moreover, this energy is a “daily” event; that is, although the activity of the universe it temporal (within time) and temporary (approaching an eventual end), it does not pause while it exists. It is not only during a sunset that the universe actively points our attention to its Creator, but at every moment.
The world “prepares and awakens” us to the “wonder and glory” of God. This implies that the first condition of our minds is unprepared and asleep. This evokes the image of the foolish virgins who did not bring oil with their lamps and then fell asleep before the coming of the Bridegroom in Matthew Chapter 25. While all ten virgins eventually were asleep, and only five were unprepared, creation supplies both preparation and wakefulness to our souls, that we may become daily aware of the wonder and glory of the Maker.
How does this happen? In what way does the world prepare us and awaken us to God’s glory? The hymn continues:“The wondrous variations, which oppose one another, fire, water, earth and vaporous air, are harmonized within it.”The four elements of classical physics are shown in their opposition – earth is heavy and air is light, water is wet and fire is dry, etc. Therefore the very fact that they “are harmonized,” or made to exist side-by-side, is marvelous enough. But the graciousness of God goes beyond this mere “preparation” of our minds through the harmony of opposite realities.
There is an even deeper reality, an even more shocking awareness that rouses us out of our spiritual sleep: “And so that we may not be led astray to think that, because of their diversity, they have many makers, he took and made, of creation, one body in the forming of man, and in him made known to us that he is the Lord of all.” The Lord uses his creation to “awaken” us out of the spiritual sleep of idolatry (the worship of any creature) by reminding us that we have no excuse not to know him: we are created in his image! When any objective mind examines nature, it is naturally led to what is more complex, more beautiful, and better. This process ends when we reach the human being, the peak and culmination of all the created world, where all the elements combine in one gorgeous masterpiece. Despite the pain we suffer, the Creator shows himself in something deeper. Despite the desires within us, the Creator offers us a greater beatitude. Despite our distractions, the Creator calls our attention to himself at every moment. We have no excuse if we do not know God, because his fingerprint is so “in our face” that we cannot miss it – it is in our very selves. We have no excuse if we fall asleep, because the alarm clock is inside us.