Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Prayer, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
Over the last week I have been reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Like our Genesis passage there is an account of creation by an unnamed deity. What is truly fascinating about Ovid’s wonderful text is his clarification of something that our scripture only briefly explains. It is the pre-existing state before creation of chaos. In Genesis this pre creation world is described as, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from G-d swept over the face of the waters.” Listen as Ovid fills in pre-creation’s blanks poetically:
Before the seas and lands had been created,
Before the sky that covers everything,
Nature displayed a single aspect only
Throughout the cosmos; Chaos was its name,
A shapeless, unwrought mass of inert bulk
And nothing more, with the discordant seeds
Of disconnected elements all heaped
Together in anarchic disarray.
Ovid’s description goes on for a couple more paragraphs before an unnamed god or “kinder nature” brings together all of these chaotic elements and forms the world that we know. Creation, it is the ultimate act of bringing sense out of those things that are running wild. That has always been powerful imagery to me.
Ovid was one of the first poets that I read outside of the Bible when I was in high school. I had always been intimidated by this type of writing thinking that I was too simple minded to understand its deep intricacies. When I bought a battered copy at the thrift store of the Metamorphoses and Juvenile’s Satires I was swept away. Instead of being inaccessible I was drawn in by the myths and stories that had the idea of change at their core. Yet, this description of creation filled in something that was missing from my strict, literalist readings of creation. It was the wonderful descriptive nature of the story.
Soon I would devour T.S. Eliot, Dante, John Niehardt, Richard Brautigan and Vachel Lindsay. To this day I probably am that rare bird who reads more poetry than any other type of literature. It made me yearn to become a poet. Stringing together words out of the chaos and beauty that surrounds me has always been of utmost creative interest to me. Whether I am a good poet is for someone else to determine. Yet, this creative act is so central to my being that when I do not write poems and prayers I fall into a bit of personal despair. Writer’s block makes me afraid that I will never be able to create poetry again.
Whenever I read the creation myth or any of the creation myths for that matter I am again struck by the idea that one of the central characteristics of deity is to create. Many Near Eastern deities create and destroy. There are many that have very similar myths of creation and also a universal flood. Yet, to me what is so compelling about the Hebrew G-d is that the act of creation shows something that I find missing in other stories. It is that G-d has a personality. There is reason, sympathy and pleasure. It is one of my strongest held beliefs that G-d’s pleasure in creation is vitally important to our own understanding of humanity. It is important because it means that God is proud of us as works of a creative force. We are completed with the idea of being complete.
Much of what passes for the study of humanity in the church is centrally focused around our capacity toward sin and human limitations. Yet, what we find in the story of creation is an exhausted artist, who has harnessed the swirling chaos to form life and standing back surveys the entire canvas. It is pleasing, it is good and we are integral parts of the divine’s masterpiece. We are bursting with the potential that has been created in our beings. Salvation comes when we have the curiosity to participation in the process of finishing creation already begun within us.
We are not a blank canvas but works with specs, contours and brush strokes beautifully pointing to one whom creates out of chaos. This is the same Spirit that enables us to create something quite stunning out of the chaos that may surround our lives.
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