There is a part of each one of us, held deep within our very being, which wants to know that our existence, our place among others, our being situated within this world, was created with intention, care, and even delight. Understanding or justifying our role in life often seems to hinge upon a knowledge that someone yearned for our being, created us out of love and companionship, setting us solidly within relationships that will matter and shape our lives.
Each night for a number of months, when we were snuggled in bed reading stories and sharing that warm intimacy that seems to flow so naturally between mother and child, my toddler son asked me repeatedly to tell him the story of his birth. He wasn’t looking for a scientific story of the birth process, he wanted to hear and be reassured that he is here on this earth because of love, because of a yearning in his parents’ hearts for a child, for companionship, but particularly his older brother – and he wanted to know the delight in my heart when I first held him, when his older brother showed up in the hospital room, touching him tenderly and saying words of affection, and when grandparents dashed to our home to meet the newest love in their lives.
The Israelites sat on the banks of the river in Babylon as captives, exiled from their land and their God situated in the temple hundreds of miles away, down in Jerusalem. They felt separation, despair, loneliness, and they wanted to know that somehow, somewhere, after all these years of being the people of God, that there was still a God who loved them, who brought them into being with intention and care, and even delight, and most of all, a God full of power who could save them. They held on deeply to the hope that God would set them free and release them to resume their lives as faithful people of God in the place they could call home.
These elders and elite of the people of God wrote a story – not one intended to be a scientific account of the creation of the earth – but written to reassure them, while in this place of isolation and despair, that they and all of humankind, were created out of love, with intention, with purpose and with delight, and into a world where there is no separation from their true selves, from their people, from God, or from the rest of the created Earth. Their life in exile was as chaotic and unknown as the earth they told about in their story, formless and void, where the seas raged uncontrollably, with no distinction between the light and the dark, and where there was only the potential for life not yet called forward into fruition. They were calling upon their God, YHWH, to bring order to the chaos they lived in, to separate the darkness from the light, to set a beacon of hope in their hearts, as the sun and moon were set in the skies in their origin story, all with the intention of opening the way for new and restored life. As they wrote the first creation story in the Book of Genesis, they told the story of a God who loved them into being, who created a world where they could thrive, where they could set their lives within a network of relationships with creation and created beings, so they would never feel so alone and separated from all that is good. The deep yearning in their hearts for order was actually met in their story of God’s creativity, which at first sounds opposite to what we might imagine: that order comes out of creativity, for their hearts hung onto the belief that as God began to create the world with energy pulsing with love, that love would continue to ring through all creation through all eternity and save them from the raw separation they were feeling in the moment. This powerful God, whose first act was a creative one, would come up with a creative and loving response to their enslaved condition. Their origin story began with God, “In the beginning, God.” and told a love story about God and creation which included humankind’s integral role of bearing God’s image into the world, as a way to remind them that there is a God whose creative energy and presence will save them, even now, whose love will call their world into order, once again.
I wonder how we would tell our own origin story. Would we draw it back to “In the beginning, God …”? Do our personal stories of creation begin with God? Are they drenched in love? Do they resonate with delight, and speak to us with a sense of the honor, joy, and challenge of bearing God’s image into this world, as the ancient Israelites story did?
I would like to imagine that the story of our origin as Christians begins in our baptism, for it is through that sacramental act that we are joined in communion with God, and therefore with all that God has created. We are joined in community with others, and it is through our baptism that we sense our connectedness with all of creation and the creative force of God radiating from our very being. We are rooted and grounded in a brand-new way, so that we may continue the process, began in the ancient Israelites’ story of creation, of taking on the role of bearing God’s image, God’s character and nature, God’s love, into the world.
Yesterday, the daily word from The Society of St. John the Evangelist was CONNECTION. Brother Joseph wrote, “The truth of baptism is revealed in what it does and who it shows us to be, cleansing us, not from dirt but from separation: separation from God, separation from ourselves, separation from one another.” This sounds a lot like an answer to the yearning in the hearts of the ancient Israelites: the release from the separation they were feeling from their true selves, their God, and their holy land. This sense of creation in community and connection to what is around us is what my younger son wanted to hear of each evening at bedtime; this is what the ancient Israelites wanted to know of their origin and told in the Genesis story, and this is often what we yearn to know. For sometimes, in our moments of wondering what the purpose of our lives could be, or how our lives are expected to unfold, or the times when the reality we desperately want to hold onto slips away like water between our fingertips and we need to be reminded that our origins are in a God who is loving, creative, and who completely delights in us. We need to know this is the basis of the truth within, from which our lives are formed.
When we listen closely to the creation story written by the Israelites, we hear the truth that God chose to be in partnership with the Earth, working with what is already there, forming the formless; not annihilating anything, but keeping everything, separating the darkness from the light. The Earth was not just an object of God’s activity, but a partner in creation. So, it is with our Baptism, God fashions our lives by forming what is already there, differentiating our gifts, (raising up and calling out some, but leaving the others in the shadows), and affirming us as we live into the image of God, by saying, “And this is very good”.
What I find interesting is that the path of figuring out how we best bear God’s image into the world, through a process of faithfully discerning how we hear and follow God’s call toward a fruitful and sacred life, often takes us into a place we often call chaos, a place of disorder where the cacophony of many different voices screaming for our attention crowds out the voice of God, where we feel planted in a place and time which can feel like wasted time or a void of real movement. So often we need to enter into a time of disorientation, which can last from a moment to many decades, before what we perceive as an orderly plan forward is formed. If we look closely at the genesis story and the energy of creativity set within, we can see our times of being in the unknown are very much like the unformed Earth God chose to partner with. When we allow God to partner with us, to meet us in this place of chaos, and remember this is most decidedly a place of creativity, we find our path of life emerges in a whole new way.
I am reading a book by Christine Valters Paintner, called The Soul’s Slow-Ripening in which she describes an ancient Celtic practice for seeking the sacred called “Walking the Rounds,” which she describes as an intentional practice of walking in a circular motion around sacred sites, while offering typically traditional prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer, from your heart. She understands this practice to be a sacred invitation to bring oneself fully present in the moment and “to walk with full mindfulness and affectionate awareness.” There is a deep understanding in the Celtic tradition that walking embodies our prayers, and walking in a circle has a way of moving our brains out of their desired linear course. Anyone who has walked a labyrinth has probably found this to be their experience. We often end up in a very different place than we began or imagined. So when we are discerning steps in life, we often want the next best step to appear, if not the entire path clearly ahead. But discernment, which is an opening of ourselves to the creative energy of God, is more like a spiraling inward and a deep attentiveness to what is happening in the moment rather than a clear-cut path forward. We often have to let go of the map and directions and slowly move inward, circling and waiting. Walking the rounds invite us to live more intuitively and organically. She offers these wise words: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This doesn’t mean we should never make plans. It just means we should hold them lightly, not from a place feeling pleased with the control and certainty we imagine we have over how our life will turn out, but from a place that is open to the movement of the creative force of God within, to redirect or reform our path with God.
How we define our origin story matters. If we find ourselves telling our narratives beginning with a God in relationship with us who is loving, attentive, and creative, then our life will unfold in a more loving, attentive, and creative way, and we find we are then bearing the image of God into the world with faithfulness. Our lives can be messy along the way; it can feel chaotic and out of control; it can yearn for certainty and order and when we find that desire thwarted by the creative force of God, it can feel very disorienting. But this is also a most alive place to be, for it is one when we are often most open to love, most able to live into the source of inspiration, most able to see the doors flung open around us, most able to see the God within.
As we work with the creation story this morning and the prologue of the Gospel of John, which retells the Genesis story of God’s love, with the addition of Jesus as co-eternal with God, may we remember our origins are set deep within these stories, that we are part of the ongoing story of God’s creation of God’s people in relationship with our Earth, and that as we bear God’s image into the world, we become a part of God’s creative pulse which glides through all eternity. Amen.