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Celebrating science all year round

 Helen Billam
Glasses rest on top of a calendar

By Helen Billam and Theodora Hawksley. This is is the sixth post in our series on Science-Engaged Worship.

Science touches our lives daily and has a place in our regular church activity – whether that’s in preaching, all-age worship, or hymnody. But there are also plenty of specific moments in the liturgical calendar where it’s appropriate to give thanks for the gift of science and pray for guidance for the challenges it brings. Here are some ideas.

Advent 

During Advent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus. Those using the Lectionary readings will notice an apocalyptic theme in many of them, as they draw parallels between the coming of Jesus in the incarnation, and the coming of Jesus as judge at the end of time. It could be an opportunity to encourage people to think about the different narratives offered by science and religion about the end of the world. How are we to understand the scriptural texts, and what wisdom do they have to offer?

Hope is another frequent theme in Advent preaching, as we hear many prophetic texts about God’s coming Messiah. As well as exploring God’s action as a source of hope, how could you explore the ways that God calls us to be bringers of hope and consolation, including through the gifts of medical science? 

Christmas 

The great feast of the incarnation provides an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be human, and what it means to say that Jesus shares our humanity. Today, we understand that human beings are the product of a long process of evolution. How does God share in this and shape it? What does it mean to affirm that, if Jesus’s humanity is like ours, it is not generic but genetic, the product of a particular family? Preaching on some of these questions can help people to explore and reflect on how their everyday scientific knowledge connects with their faith.  

Lent 

Traditionally Lent has been a penitential season: a time to reflect on our lives, give up some things, or take up new habits. The point of all these Lenten practices is to restore our relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. Today we are being encouraged to make changes to our lifestyles to help reduce our carbon footprint and our impact on the environment around us. Lent provides an opportunity to encourage reflection on how we can give something up – or take something up – that has a real effect in restoring our relationship with God’s creation. 

A cross atop a mountain

Easter 

Easter affords many opportunities for preaching about science.

  • For many Christians, the resurrection is the place where their faith feels most in conflict with their scientific knowledge: dead people can’t come back to life. How can we talk about the miracle of Easter (and other miracles) in a helpful way? What does it mean to think about Jesus as alive and present now?
  • St Paul tells us that Jesus rising from the dead is our hope of our resurrection. While many people hope that the separation from family and loved ones in death is not the end, they may not be sure of how to think about the hope of bodily resurrection. What can we learn from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection? Or from St Paul’s letters?
  • The significance of Jesus’s resurrection is not just limited to his own resurrection, or even to the resurrection of human beings. It is the beginning of a ‘new creation’, and the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. What does it mean to think about God saving not just human beings, but the whole of creation – perhaps particularly in the context of the climate crisis, or in the context of contemporary theories about the end of the universe?

Pentecost

Coming at the end of the fifty days of Easter, the feast of Pentecost brings with it the promise that the Holy Spirit who was present at creation will ‘renew the face of the earth’ (Ps 104:30). That same Spirit works in and through human agency, gathering the church and making known through us the new life made possible in Jesus. In what ways are we – including through the gifts of science – called to ‘renew the face of the earth’?

At Pentecost, the Spirit gave the church two fluencies. The first is in the fundamentals of the Good News about God’s work in Jesus Christ. Read the book of Acts — you’ll quickly see this message is crucial. But the Spirit’s strategy is also for the church to speak to various people in their own “mother tongues.” The focus of this… is on that second fluency with a particular accent: speaking the languages of technology and science.” Greg Cootsona, Science for the Church 

Harvest 

As well as thanksgiving for God’s good creation and the blessing of food, we can use Harvest as an opportunity to talk about how better to steward both the land and our bodies through sustainable farming practices and healthy diets. It may be appropriate to look at how we are falling short of our responsibilities to other creatures, for example through intensive food production being linked to habitat loss for wildlife. This post from Green Christian talks about the other things communities might celebrate at Harvest time, such as coal, and how we can reimagine their role on a warming planet.

A combine harvester in a field

Saints’ Days

Tom McLeish, York University physicist and a member of the ECLAS team, finds saints’ days a helpful calendar moment. “Festival days of great natural philosophers, like Bede (25 May) or Robert Grosseteste (9 October), or of saints who cared for the natural world, like Francis (4 October), can be celebrated by preaching science as a gift of God, to be returned ten or a hundredfold.”

Focusing on an individual’s story and impact can be an inspiring lens through which to reflect on our own lives and the particular scientific breakthroughs or ethical questions of the time we are living through.

World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ on ‘Care for the Common Home’ calls on “every person living on this planet” to care for our shared Earth: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

The World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation falls on 1 September and marks the beginning of the Season of Creation, which ends on 4 October with the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This season is a great opportunity for churches of any denomination to examine their role in caring for creation. The Global Catholic Climate Movement have pulled together a helpful list of prayer resources here – as well as practical action and campaigns.

And remember that prayer can take many forms, and a more experiential take on it can deepen engagement for people unused to or uncomfortable with traditional intercessory prayer. As the devotional poet Mary Oliver wrote:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

 

So – whether it’s a prayer walk through fields, planting wildflower seeds, or something else, there are thousands of ways we can live our vocation as stewards of creation. 

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Article By Helen Billam

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