One of the most beautiful and best-loved prayers of the Church of England can be found in the service of Evensong. The prayer is headed: for Aid against all Perils. It is a prayer that many people know, even though they do not engage with the service of Evensong on a regular basis. As I lead that much-loved service, I often see people’s lips moving as they silently join in the powerful words of this prayer. The prayer I am speaking of says this: Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We live in dark times. As with every generation of humanity that has ever existed, we are faced with challenges and threats that seem insurmountable. Because of where we sit in the development of our scientific understanding of the universe, the challenges and threats seem bigger than ever. And, perhaps they are.
Along with our growing knowledge and understanding has come an exponential growth in our desire for things to be bigger and better. We want to derive larger profits from our efforts. As we watch our profits grow we seek new ways of making even more money, and we do not care what our endeavours might cost in terms of what might be irrevocably damaged along the way.
As I write the most powerful nations of the world will soon be meeting to consider an appropriate response to climate change. As ever, we will hear some international leaders who are enthusiastic to make a difference, while others will deny that there is a problem at all. The one thing of which we can be certain is that there will be great reticence to take the necessary steps to ‘save our planet’. Even though the science is undeniable, the economists and the politicians will still insist on maintaining the profits made by their countries with no consideration of the legacy we are leaving for future generations.
In the Bible, at the very beginning of the book of Genesis we read these words: And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light. Whatever our personal opinions may be in relation to the Bible’s account of creation, we do know that the order of creation recorded in the first chapter of Genesis is scientifically accurate. Eminent scientists know that following the Big Bang, or whatever we may believe happened at the dawn of time, the world we know came into being in the order we are given in scripture … even if not in six days (?). The first gift of creation was light. How sad that all these billions of years later we find ourselves needing a prayer that begins: Lighten our darkness.
The issues I am touching upon this month are monumentally huge. None of us can put them right through our own actions. To bring light into the darkness that has been created by humanity, and especially our scientifically-aware brand of humanity, needs total cooperation. It needs commitment and it needs prayer.
In recent weeks we have seen the darkness of cataclysmic natural disasters, the darkness of oppressive regimes, the darkness of warfare and violence, and the darkness of political regimes masquerading as religious movements. We are living in dark times and, more than ever, we need to pray that God might Lighten our darkness.
However, just as the darkness which envelops us was created by humanity, so God needs us to help in putting all the wrongs of this world to rights. God needs each of us, in our own small ways, to repent, that is, to turn around and follow a different path.
Increasingly, I hear people getting the message. I hear people wanting to make a difference and see a change. But, I also hear of that growing understanding in terms of despair. We all see ourselves as being impotent in the face of such a large-scale crisis. God’s message to us is: ‘Do not stop hoping, and make that difference.’
As we struggle with the concept of hope in the face of the darkness that seems to be overwhelming us, hold on to that ancient prayer for Aid against all Perils, and never stop praying that God might: Lighten our darkness. And never forget that we are called to let our lights shine out as Christ’s disciples on earth.
Revd Stephen Buckman