Genesis 1:1-19 – It Is So, and It is Good

Day When God Created the Flowers by Unknown artist

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So, God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (NRSV)

There is so much which could be said about the opening of Holy Scripture, the first verses of the Old Testament book of Genesis. And much already has been said. I merely want to make one observation of the text and discuss its significant import for us….

God already had within himself everything needed to create.

“Duh,” you might say, “It’s God.” Yes, and we need to unpack what that means. I will phrase it a different way….

God called forth that which is already there.

The opening statement of Genesis is there to communicate a wonderful reality – that the Lord brought order from chaos. God took what was potential and actualized it. And the Lord gave us understanding through creation to discern what is happening….

Seeds are amazing. They have the potential to totally transform from tiny objects to large plants. Perhaps we take seeds for granted because we see the evidence of them everywhere. Yet, like God at creation, a seed already has within itself everything it needs to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce fruit. The end process of the seed’s maturation looks nothing like when it started as a tiny little kernel.

The seed simply needs to be called forth with the conditions of good soil and proper amounts of sunshine and water. The seed lacks nothing inherent to its very being. It already has everything it needs within itself.

We are creatures, called forth from the earth by God. Each one of us, no matter who we are, where we have come from, whether male or female, rich or poor, black or white, introvert or extrovert, happy or depressed, privileged or underprivileged, already have everything we need within ourselves to grow, thrive, mature, and flourish in this world. In other words, we lack nothing. We are not flawed. We are enough.

We are already spiritual. Our spirituality is as much a part of our DNA as our biological self. We just need the proper conditions to grow.

Sometimes when I meet a person for the first time and it is discovered I’m a pastor and a chaplain, they immediately believe that what I do is put religion into folks – as if people lack something that I must give them.

However, just the opposite is true of what I really do. I simply call forth the spiritual nature which is already present in a person. Many individuals are not aware of who they are, unaware of the magnanimous spirit which resides within them, a resilient and loving spirit which is there to support them just as much as their literal physical spine.

“If you treat people as they appear to be, you make them worse than they are. But if you treat another as if he already were what he potentially could be, you make him what he should be.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Let there be people who see beyond the five senses and embrace the sixth sense of knowing the inherent worth and majesty of humanity.

Let there be those who discern the potential of chaotic minds and hearts to become calm and rightly ordered around the love of God.

Let there be believers who embody light in all their relational dealings and are unafraid to face the darkness within.

Let there be compassionate ones who awash others with living water.

Let there be leaders who patiently and tediously tend to the garden of people’s souls, providing the proper conditions for spiritual growth and maturation.

Let us all call forth the good in one another, for God created and called us, “good.”

And that is our name: “Good.”

Psalm 8 – The Majesty of It All

MilkyWay
The Milky Way

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NRSV)

This little psalm grounds us by dealing with ultimate questions of existence: Who am I?  Why do I exist?  What is the purpose of my life?

The answers to those questions are supremely important because we can lose sight of who we are and why we exist. If we were to peel back the layers of any random person’s life, we may find a deep sense of not belonging, of being in profound touch with their own mortality, and of having a disconnected sense of their personal role in the world. Many people have lost their original purpose of being a person and belonging to the human family in a way that makes a significant contribution to the world.

We live on a big planet, and that causes some people to feel quite small and wonder how they fit in. Gaping at such a large universe we may ask along with psalmist, “What are humans that you are mindful of them?”  This question forms the center of the psalm.  Hebrew poetry is typically arranged to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle as its focus. So then, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider the great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this exceptionally large universe.

To put this largeness in perspective, if the Milky Way galaxy were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For thirty-five years they have been speeding away from Earth, having traveled 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes over 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their planets in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.

Moraine Lake, Canada
Moraine Lake in Alberta, Canada

Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is planet Earth that God should care about it?  Even on our planet there are billions of creatures. Yet, out of all those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply. God has even entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation.  We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created.  To put it another way, we, as people created in the image of God, have a job that is befitting of royalty, and it is more than a duty – it is a delight.

Furthermore, it is a godly and spiritual thing to engage in good creation care, whether it is properly feeding and caring for a pet, properly attending to relationships with grace and civility, or playing a crucial role in responsible land use.  Whatever it may be within this vast created world, God has entrusted to us this expansive Earth we live upon.  Literally everything in all creation is under our stewardship.

Out of all the creatures on earth, only people have been given the task of caring for every other created thing.  Only we as people have the self-awareness and perspective of the world which is needed to govern the world.  So, then, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation.  Care-giving is at the heart of being a person.

The glitch to this, and why so many lose their way, is that the world is still living under a curse due to the original fall of humanity into sin.  When we allow other dominions to supersede God’s dominion, then we have major problems.  When the power of money, or the significance of a position or job title, or the ability to do certain tasks is our basic identity and place of belonging, then we will likely succumb to anxiety. Other dominions cannot help us find our true God-given majesty as people created in God’s image.  Living any other way than being a proper steward of the world is beneath us because we have inherent dignity as God’s vice-regents over creation.

“There is no such thing as a small thing – only small things done with big love.” –Mother Teresa

That sentiment perfectly captures the vision of the psalmist – that all people are crowned with glory and honor and rule with God to do all the small things of life with a love that comes from our Creator.

Going forward, we have the possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us.  We can use our words in ways that care for others and build them up, rather than saying uncaring things which are not helpful.  We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy, it is all important and has a significant place.

Let us, then, continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor.  May this topsy-turvy year become one of joy and contentment, knowing the majesty we share with God as humans in his wondrous world.

Creator God, you make all things and weave them together in an intricate tapestry of life. Teach us to respect the fragile balance of life and to care for all the gifts of your creation. Guide by your wisdom those who have power and authority, that, by the decisions they make, life may be cherished, and a good and fruitful Earth may continue to show your glory and sing your praises. Almighty God, you have called us to tend and keep the garden of your creation. Give us wisdom and reverence for all your plants and animals who share this planet with us and whose lives make possible our own. Help us to remember that they too love the sweetness of life and join with us in giving you praise. Amen.

Psalm 8 – Our Place in the World

Milky Way

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (NIV)

I adore the psalms. Many years ago, it was the biblical Book of Psalms which helped me come to faith. This little psalm for today is illustrative of why I was moved toward embracing a life with God. Psalm 8 grounds us through dealing with the ultimate questions of human existence:

Who am I? Why do I exist? What is the purpose of life?

The answers to those questions are supremely important because people throughout history and now across the world are asking what meaning their lives really have. For example, depression is ubiquitous in the world as well as the church. It is a large issue. Peeling back the layers of a person’s life, many have a deep sense of not truly belonging, and of being profoundly misunderstood by others. Many depressed persons are very aware of their own mortality and have a disconnected sense of their personal role in the world. In other words, some people have lost their original purpose of being a person and that they belong to the human family in a way that makes a significant contribution to the world.

Living on such a big planet causes some people to feel quite small and wonder how they fit in. With such a large universe, which may at times seem cold and capricious, we may ask along with psalmist:

“What is humanity that you are mindful of them?”

This question forms the center of the psalm. Hebrew poetry is typically set up to have the front and the end of the poem point to the middle where the chief focus is found. So, then, the psalmist purposely wrote this psalm so we would consider this great question of what God thinks of humanity within the scope of this immense universe.

And it is a staggeringly huge universe! To put it in perspective, if our galaxy, the Milky Way, were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For decades they have been speeding away from Earth, having now traveled billions of miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes over half a day to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their planets in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.

Out of the billions of galaxies in the universe, what is the planet Earth that God should care about it?  Even on our planet there are billions of creatures. Yet, of all those bugs, animals, fish, and birds, God has a special relationship with us, humanity, and cares for us deeply. We know that God cares for us, according to this psalm, because he has entrusted us with the responsibility to care for creation. We are the only creatures who have the charge to steward all that God has created. To put it another way, we, as people created in the image of God, have a job that is befitting of a king. We as humans are God’s vice-regents in charge of tending and caring for all creation. This incredible job is both a duty and a delight.

creation care

God has us, his people, playing a crucial role in governing and caring for the world he created. Like a parent or grandparent patiently working with a child to teach them responsibility for all that is around them, God teaches us and has entrusted to us this large expansive world we live in. Literally everything in all creation is under our stewardship. Only we as people have the self-awareness and perspective of the world that is needed to govern the world.  So, then, we can only find our true purpose and belonging in the stewardship of creation.

Caring is at the heart of being a person.

The only glitch to all this, and why so many lose their way, is that the world is still living under a curse due to the original fall of humanity. When we allow other dominions to supersede God’s dominion, then we have issues. When the power of money or the significance of a position or job title or the ability to do certain tasks is our basic identity and place of belonging, then we will likely succumb to anxiety because other dominions cannot help us find our true God-given majesty as people created in God’s image.

Living in any other way than being a proper steward of the world is beneath us because we have inherent dignity as God’s vice-regents over creation.  Mother Teresa once said that there is no such thing as a small thing – only small things which are done with big love. Her sentiment perfectly captures the vision of the psalmist – that all people are crowned with glory and honor and rule with God to do all the small things of life with a love that comes from our Creator.

We continually have possibilities of engaging in good stewardship of all that God has given us. We have the chance to be attentive to all the little things of life, whether gardening, building a bird house, working with diligence and care at our jobs, or keeping our community clean and its citizens healthy and happy – it is all important and has a significant place. It brings meaning to our existence as human beings.

We as people, like all creation, are meant for growth. Putting effort into developing our skills and honing our craft, whatever that may be, is what helps us tap into our God-given purpose for being in this big world. So, may we, then, continually improve what we do, no matter what it is, so that it befits us as God’s people crowned with honor. May we realize joy and contentment – knowing the majesty we share with God in his wondrous world.

Lord God Almighty, Creator of the heavens and the earth, words are not enough to express your awesome majesty. My highest expressions of theology are but baby talk next to you. Grant me awareness through your Spirit that you are here with me. May this awareness lead me to approach life carefully. The words I speak, the tunes I sing, the thoughts I think, the joy and sadness I feel – may it all be pleasing to you, o Lord, my God. For, despite the inadequacy of my words and my actions, my life and my worship are addressed to you alone. May you make that life complete, whole, full to overflowing through Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever.  Amen.

Life as Art

Milwaukee Art
Cornelia Parker’s “Edge of England” in the Milwaukee Art Museum

Art, as I would define it, is the creation of something beautiful and/or meaningful through imagination and skill.  This definition is broad enough to encompass everyone as an artist.  Each person mirrors the Divine Artist in some unique or special way through the ways in which they imaginatively and skillfully live their lives.  Where there is no art, there is no hope.  Where art exists, there are possibility and life.  None of us could have made it this far in the process of our jobs, our families, let alone in life, without making great art.  Art is how we make sense of things and form our views of the world.  Art is both subject and object – being both formed and forming us.  Life cannot exist without art because we as people are both created and creative in all we think, feel, and do.

I say all this mostly because recently being at my local art museum helped me to remember how vital it is to be an artist, and that there is no other artist like me (or you).  The museum enabled me to reconnect with the vast imagination within, as I was reminded how large the world of Tim is and how much that inner world has always sought to make beautiful and meaningful connections with others – to make a difference.

I was also reminded of the ways in which art impacts us.  What is beauty to one is disgust in another; and, what is repulsive to one is awe in the other – and everything in between.  Yet, in every work of art we are likely to find both charm and ugliness.  That reminder helps me to reflect on a recent patient visit I had in the hospital.  His story was not too pleasant to me.  I was repulsed by many of the patient’s decisions throughout his life.  Yet, in the moment, I chose to embrace the whole painting in front of me – which included the beauty and awe of his desire for connection, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  At the time, I wasn’t sure I was doing much of anything – my own art seemed rather imperfect and unseemly.  When the visit came to an ending, the patient remarked, “Thank you for reminding me of my God and bringing me closer to him.”  Into the mix all along was the Divine Artist, creating something gracious between us.  If this was to be depicted in an actual art object, that object would include both strange beauty and repugnant representation.  The question is: Will the eye of the beholder see only one, or see both?  The answer to that question is the answer to whether we are willing and able to see the full scope of any person in front of us.  And, like an art object, we could likely sit for hours staring and observing, finding new awareness and insights, and, thus, new meaning – in both of us.

A teaching I appreciate from my Orthodox Christian friends is that every person is a “living icon,” that is, everyone is a hand-crafted image of Christ.  Even more than that, everyone is still being formed by God into a unique and special icon.  In this view of Christianity, a person’s highest calling is to simply cooperate with the Divine Artist – God is the Potter and I am the clay.  I would describe our part as being “actively passive.”  We neither act as we see fit and just trust God will direct us, nor do we sit and simply wait for God to do something.  Rather we are actively passive.  An artist waits for inspiration – and in the meantime he/she intentionally pokes around for ways to be inspired.  And when the inspiration comes, the work ensues – with a rhythm of action coupled with taking time to step back and see the big picture before engaging again.

What I am suggesting is that God has divine actions and divine reflections in a rhythm of formation and transformation of all human creatures.  God has both given us everything we need for life and godliness in this present age and is continuously weaving life-giving grace into the fabric of our everyday lives.  We are icons, and we are being crafted into icons.  To put it another way, we are human beings and are continuously being made into humans.  The care we receive is the care we give.