Readings: Sirach 1:1-10; Psalm 93; Mark 9:14-29
My studies in preparation for the priesthood included a course called 'cosmology'. It was only one of a number of strange words we had not seen before but accepted as part of venerable, if sometimes quaint, traditions. At that time the word was not much used in general scientific or popular writings. Now, however, it has come back into vogue: a Google search for 'cosmology' produces almost 14 million hits (in less than half a second!), a search for 'new cosmology' almost 12 million. So we are encouraged to look again at the Bible and Christian traditions through the lens of this term. Recent years have also seen 'the care of creation' being added to the earlier concerns of justice and peace.
Texts such as we find in today's first reading are plentiful throughout the Bible. Each of the great wisdom books contains poems or hymns in praise of the divine wisdom revealed in creation. Besides Sirach 1, read today, there is Sirach 24, Proverbs 8, Wisdom 7-8, as well as Genesis 1 of course, some psalms, and the hymn of the three young men recorded in Daniel 3. The tradition of celebrating the Creator in his creation is found also in the prophets and continues in, for example, Celtic spiritual writings such as the Breastplate of Saint Patrick.
The world of nature, explored in physics, chemistry, biology and the other sciences, reveals a wisdom, intelligence, appropriateness and beauty which, for many, point simply to the Creator. As St Paul says in Romans 1:20, God's 'invisible nature, his eternal power and deity' are 'clearly perceived in the things that have been made'.
The cosmos is wonderful in being seen and this is another aspect of wisdom. It is not just that things are, but that they are known to be as they are, and are admired by some mind somewhere. Wisdom resides not just in the order of things but in the mind that understands and appreciates that order. This is true of the human mind, of course, but is also seen by the Biblical writers as applying first to the divine mind.
God conceives a word or wisdom - 'he created her through the Holy Spirit', our first reading says - and any created mind that knows, understands and appreciates the world shares somehow in the wisdom of this originating source.
The gospel reading tells of a conflict within the creation, a point where creatures are in conflict in a way that is unnecessary and injurious: what can be done about this? We see Jesus then, the Lord of Creation, present within the cosmos, its own originating mind, wise and compassionate in relation to the creation. He heals it and sets it right, smoothing out this particular kink. The possessed boy is caught in a cosmic drama, a place where the natural order has gone awry. This kind of problem, says Jesus, can be rectified only by prayer.
Human ingenuity has found solutions to many problems within the creation and has learned how to harness its resources. But the same ingenuity can lose a sense of the gratuitousness and wonder of creation, can treat it purely materialistically, forgetting its spiritual origin and character. People can come to think of all natural things as inert and meaningless, simply waiting to be discovered and exploited by us.
Coming to it in prayer, however, means retaining a sense of wonder at the world and a sense of respect for its laws and integrity. It stimulates a sense of amazement at the 'all-powerful creator-king and truly awe-inspiring one' and a sense of gratitude for creation's many gifts. Contemplating the cosmos in prayer generates a sense of faith in its symbolic and sacramental character, seeing that it is very good in itself and its use for our salvation by Christ, in the mysteries of His incarnation.