Reflection on Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a
by Kathryn Matthews
It's only human to want to tell (and hear) the stories of who we are and where we came from, of what came before us that shapes who we are today and who we are becoming. These stories, handed down from generation to generation in every culture, are voices in themselves, voices of protest and consolation, voices of clarity and courage. They are influenced, at least in part, by the situation in which the storytellers find themselves.
In The Luminous Web, Barbara Brown Taylor movingly describes the shaping of the creation narrative of Genesis as a counter-cultural protest of the people of Israel against the creation story of their Babylonian captors. While their oppressors saw the origins of the universe as violent and bloody, the Israelites told their children a different story, a story rooted in goodness and blessing.
Light and order
Light was brought by God from the deepest night, they said, and order from chaos. The sun and the moon and the stars were set in the over-arching sky as signs of beauty and the changing of the seasons, providing light and direction and the keeping of time. God filled the earth with vegetation that was fruitful and nourishing, moved the waters back from the land and provided a home for the creatures that crawled across it, walked upon it, and flew over it.
In the midst of this loveliness, the garden of this earth, God tenderly placed human beings, blessing us and calling us to be caretakers and stewards of God's work. And then God looked upon all of this, and found it good--pronounced it good.
Is there any more beautiful, more inspiring, more powerful poetry than this ancient story about who we are, what creation is, and most importantly, who God is?
Astounded at God's creation
In this week's reading from Psalm 8, the voice of the psalmist puts the praise and wonder of ancient Israel into the mouths of worshipers, looking up at the moon and the stars, who are astounded by God's amazing creative powers, God's splendid works, even as they appreciate the place of humans, just "a little lower than the angels," in the midst of God's plan for all of these things.
Creation is God's love expressed and admired even by God Herself! If we had more of that same sense of wonder that our ancestors in faith expressed and lived by, perhaps our prayer-life would include more praise, along with the requests we so often make, and the thanks we try to remember to give when those prayers are answered.
Voices all around us
Today our culture teems with a multitude of voices, coming at us from every side. As in ancient times, these voices tell very different, often conflicting, stories of our origins, of who we are and who we are becoming. Voices of science and religion--and let's face it, politics as well--carry on a lively, though not always amicable or coherent, conversation about our origins, and the debate over evolution seems to find new life in each new generation.
Alas, when that debate takes on political-economic overtones and its conclusions produce financial benefits for some (and/or harm for many), it becomes more than simply an intellectual or spiritual exercise.
Created by a gracious Creator
For people of faith who are understandably perplexed by the "intensity" of these arguments, our anxiety misses the main point: we were created, by whatever process and whatever length it took, by a gracious Creator, in love and goodness, and we are called to care for this earth, this good creation, not to dominate or abuse it.
We are responsible for its care. Of course, this may actually require a deep humility from humans who have come to think more and more highly of themselves (ourselves) because of the "progress" that elevates us not to "a little lower than the angels" but even above them, as minor gods in a massive universe beyond our comprehension.
A note: perhaps, as long as we distract ourselves with arguing about how we were created, we can ignore how we are treating that creation! Even that effort--to consider our treatment of God's creation--on the part of many has met with resistance, which explains why this "theological" conversation becomes political and feels bewilderingly contentious if one cares at all about our responsibility to our grandchildren, and our response to God's call.
A miracle in any case
Barbara Brown Taylor weaves the language and limits of science with reflection by reminding us that we really can't explain, using scientific methods, where we all came from, but she wonders even more at our capacity to recognize God beneath and within it all: "I spoke earlier of how much time is required for an eyeball to look back at a light sensitive cell. How much more time does it take for quantum particles to mature to the point where they may compose hymns of praise? Whether your answer is seven days or fifteen billion years, it remains a miracle that we are here at all, and able to praise our maker. God may well prefer the sound of spring peepers, but I have to believe there was joy in heaven when the first human being looked at the sky and said, 'Thank you for this'" (The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion).
Just those few sentences supply a meaningful morning devotion for us on these lovely, early-summer mornings, do they not?
A gift held in trust
Yes, gratitude and praise for the beauty of this creation are in order, but this gift is held in trust, and the story of who we are includes our call to be stewards of God's good creation. Today's culture tells us, the children of Adam and Eve, a very different story, of course: instead of caretakers, we are consumers. I remember, years ago, hearing a news commentator report that this was to be our new identity and role, at least in the eyes of economists and secular thinkers, presumably as the engine that would drive a robust economy.
Like so many other things I was told by "authorities" in those days, I simply incorporated that label into my worldview as fact, as reasonable, acceptable and even necessary, until years later when I was learning to question many such authorities. When I read a beautiful reflection by Madeline L'Engle, who took issue with such a worldview, I wondered: Who made the decision to give us that new name? It certainly has not turned out to be, in Martha Stewart's words, "a good thing."
Read the scriptures and this entire reflection here.