Chapter 1

milos-simic-351441.jpg

Part 1

ALIVE IN THE STORY OF CREATION

You are entering a story already in process. All around you, things are happening, unfolding, ending, beginning, dying, being born. Our ancient ancestors tried to discern what was going on. They conveyed their best wisdom to future generations through stories that answered certain key questions:

Why are we here?
What’s wrong with the world?
What’s our role, our task, our purpose?
What is a good life?
Is there meaning and hope?
What dangers should we guard against?
What treasures should we seek?

From the Hopi to the Babylonians, from Aztecs to Australian Aboriginals, from the Vikings in Europe to the Han in China to the Yoruba in Africa to the ancient Hebrews of the Middle East – human tribes have developed, adapted and told powerful creation narratives to convey their best answers to key questions like these. Of course, their language often sounds strange to us, their assumptions foreign, the details of their culture odd or alien. But if we listen carefully, mixing their ancient wisdom with our own, we can let their stories live on in us. We can learn to be more fully alive in our time, just as they learned in theirs. In that spirit, we turn to the creation narratives of the ancient Hebrews.

tim-bogdanov-97988.jpg

Chapter 1

Awe & Wonder

Genesis 1:1 – 2:3
Psalm 19
The heavens are telling the glory of God.
Matthew 6:25–34

Big bangs aren’t boring. Dinosaurs aren’t boring. Coral reefs aren’t boring. Elephants aren’t boring. Hummingbirds aren’t boring. And neither are little children. Evolution isn’t boring. Magnetism and electricity aren’t boring. E=MC2 might be hard to understand, but it certainly isn’t boring. And even glaciers aren’t boring, although their dramatic pace is at first quite hard for us to perceive. And God, whatever God is, must not be boring either, because God’s creation is so amazingly, wonderfully, surprisingly fascinating.

The first and greatest surprise – a miracle, really – is this: that anything exists at all, and that we get to be part of it. Ripe peach, crisp apple, tall mountain, bright leaves, sparkling water, flying flock, flickering flame, and you and me... here, now!

On this, the first pages of the Bible and the best thinking of today’s scientists are in full agreement: it all began in the beginning, when space and time, energy and matter, gravity and light, burst or bloomed or banged into being. In light of the Genesis story, we would say that the possibility of this universe overflowed into actuality as God, the Creative Spirit, uttered the original joyful invitation: Let it be! And in response, what happened? Light. Time. Space. Matter. Motion. Sea. Stone. Fish. Sparrow. You. Me. Enjoying the unspeakable gift and privilege of being here, being alive.

'Imagine how space dust coalesced into clouds...'

Imagine how uncountable nuclei and electrons and sister particles danced and whirled. Imagine how space dust coalesced into clouds, and how clouds coalesced into galaxies, and how galaxies began to spin, sail and dance through space. Imagine how in galaxy after galaxy, suns blazed, solar systems twirled and worlds formed. Around some of those worlds, moons spun, and upon some of those worlds, storms swirled, seas formed and waves rolled. And somewhere in between the smallest particles and the largest cosmic structures, here we are, in this galaxy, in this solar system, on this planet, in this story, around this table, at this moment – with this chance for us to breathe, think, dream, speak and be alive together.

The Creator brought it all into being and now, some 14 billion years later, here we find ourselves: dancers in this beautiful, mysterious choreography that expands and evolves and includes us all. We’re farmers and engineers, parents and students, theologians and scientists, teachers and shopkeepers, builders and fixers, drivers and doctors, dads and mums, wise grandparents and wide-eyed infants.

Don’t we all feel like poets when we try to speak of the beauty and wonder of this creation? Don’t we share a common amazement about our cosmic neighbourhood when we wake up to the fact that we’re actually here, actually alive, right now?

Some theologians and mystics speak of the Creator withdrawing or contracting to make space for the universe to be . . . on its own, so to speak, so that it has its own life, its own being and history. Others imagine God creating the universe within God’s self, so the universe in some way is contained ‘in’ God, within God’s presence, part of God’s own life and story. Still others imagine God creating an ‘out there’ of space and time, and then filling it with galaxies, and then inhabiting it like a song fills a forest or light fills a room or love fills a heart. Interestingly, some scholars believe the Genesis story echoes ancient Middle Eastern temple dedication texts. But in this story, the whole universe is the temple, and the Creator chooses to be represented by human beings, not a stone idol.

love

'How can we not celebrate this great gift – to be alive?'

The romance of Creator and creation is far more wonderful and profound than anyone can ever capture in words. And yet we try, for how could we be silent in the presence of such beauty, glory, wonder and mystery? How can we not celebrate this great gift – to be alive?

To be alive is to look up at the stars on a dark night and to feel the beyond-words awe of space in its vastness. To be alive is to look down from a mountaintop on a bright, clear day and to feel the wonder that can only be expressed in ‘Oh!’ or ‘Wow!’ or maybe ‘Hallelujah!’ To be alive is to look out from the beach towards the horizon at sunrise or sunset and to savour the joy of it all in pregnant, saturated silence. To be alive is to gaze in delight at a single bird, tree, leaf or friend, and to feel that they whisper of a creator or source we all share.

Genesis means ‘beginnings’. It speaks through deep, multilayered poetry and wild, ancient stories. The poetry and stories of Genesis reveal deep truths that can help us be more fully alive today. They dare to proclaim that the universe is God’s self-expression, God’s speech act. That means that everything everywhere is always essentially holy, spiritual, valuable, meaningful. All matter matters.

If you ask what language the Creator speaks, the best answer is this: God’s first language is full-spectrum light, clear water, deep sky, red squirrel, blue whale, grey parrot, green lizard, golden aspen, orange mango, yellow warbler, laughing child, rolling river, serene forest, churning storm, spinning planet.

A psalmist said the same thing in another way – the universe is God’s work of art, God’s handiwork. All created things speak or sing of the God who made them. If you want to know what the Original Artist is like, a smart place to start would be to enjoy the art of creation.

Genesis tells us that the universe is good – a truth so important it gets repeated like the theme of a song. Rocks are good. Clouds are good. Sweet corn is good. Every river or hill or valley or forest is good. Skin? Good. Bone? Good. Mating and eating and breathing and giving birth and growing old? Good, good, good. All are good. Life is good.

The best thing in Genesis is not simply human beings, but the whole creation considered and enjoyed together, as a beautiful, integrated whole, and us a part. The poetry of Genesis describes the ‘very goodness’ that comes at the end of a long process of creation . . . when all the parts, including us, are working together as one whole. That harmonious whole is so good that the Creator takes a day off, as it were, just to enjoy it. That day of restful enjoyment tells us that the purpose of existence isn’t money or power or fame or security or anything less than this: to participate in the goodness and beauty and aliveness of creation. And so we join the Creator in good and fruitful work . . . and in delightful enjoyment, play and rest as well.

So here we are, friends. Here we are. Alive!

And this is why we walk this road: to behold the wonder and savour this aliveness. To remind ourselves who we are, where we are, what’s going on here, and how beautiful, precious, holy and meaningful it all is. It’s why we pause along the journey for a simple meal, with hearts full of thankfulness, rejoicing to be part of this beautiful and good creation. This is what it means to be alive. Amen.

frank-mckenna-127338.jpg

Engage

Meditate and Contempation

1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?

2. Share a story about a time when you most felt the humble awe and joyful wonder described in this chapter.

3. What is the most beautiful place you have ever seen? What was so special about it?

4. For children: What is your favourite animal? Why do you like it so much?

5. Activate: This week, choose one facet of creation that you love – birds, trees, weather, soil, water, light, children, sex, ageing, sleep. Observe it, think about it, learn about it at every chance you can, with this question in mind: If that element of creation were your only Bible, what would it tell you about God?

6. Meditate: Observe a few moments of silence. Let a silent prayer of gratitude arise from within you.