Tag Archives: Light

Genesis 1 and Darkness

If light has some special relationship to love and life and God, then darkness … maybe does not? Darkness was not created or made; it was already there.

“…when darkness covered the face of the deep… 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.”

Darkness is a pre-existing condition, but it wasn’t Night until God named it.

We’ll have to think about the power of names and naming at some point. But “darkness” for now is enough to think about. Before it was Night, when it was all there was however formless and void that “all” was, was darkness actually something or was darkness a characteristic of the formless void? By naming it Night, did God give form and purpose to darkness? Night is an essential part of life, an essential fundamental fact of existence as we know it. So it cannot be innately bad or evil or hate, right?

I want to suggest that the opposite of light is not darkness but “nothingness” a vast empty. In fact, I think we have all heard it said that hate is not the opposite of love, but indifference is.

In the midst of indifference, something, somehow, needs to spark a light in order for existence to matter, for even darkness and shadows to have a form and a meaning.

In the book “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperOne 2014), she acknowledges how scary darkness is, how night conjures up fear. Yet, she writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

I really don’t think I like that! I would much rather not be afraid. I would rather not know through those lessons of darkness.

Yet trying to have a world that is always sunny, Taylor writes, “can result in a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention.” Things are not always good no matter how much faith you have, no matter how much you trust God, no matter how hard you try to manifest hope and joy and peace. As with seasons, there are going to be patches in life where bad things happen. Blame it all on darkness?

Since darkness is a pre-existing condition, and even a requirement for how the world works, perhaps take blame and shame and disgust out of the situation. Perhaps waiting for the sun to shine again, the earth to spin, the inevitable change to arrive is a type of faith.

Or maybe the darkness that was present before the Light is something utterly different from life and love and different entirely from fear and night. Perhaps it is more like “IT” in Madelaine L’Engle’s strange teen classic “A Wrinkle in Time”. Meg has to rescue her long-missing father from “IT” on a planet that has been captured by the enemy. It is not dark there, that planet’s sun still shines on the people there, in fact, it is orderly and well-lit and organized. But fear is everywhere, and the danger of indifference and meaningless is something beyond hate.

It is in fact, Meg’s anger that becomes her greatest gift and weapon against the power of “IT”.

God calls the darkness “Night”…. perhaps not to tame it or claim it, but perhaps to shape it into an actual something, to remove “formlessness and void” from the created world. To make “Night” part of the design.

(I would still rather the joy of the morning!)

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Genesis 1 and light, life, and love

While this might seem obvious if you grew up in the church, for those of us who did not maybe I am not the only one to find a connection between God and Light and Jesus to be surprising and beautiful. I’m not sure how far to push this connection or story thread.

Genesis starts out with light: “God said, Let there be Light.”

And in John 8:12, we read “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

As I quoted downstream, Fleming Rutledge wrote about the light of God being something far beyond our ken. Perhaps as the light that we see from a candle is so vastly different from the light from a bonfire — or worse a wildfire — thus the essence of “God is light” is some dramatically different way from what we mean by “light”.

Perhaps what “Let there be Light” means is more like “Let there be life.” Or even — is it too much to say? — “Let there be Love”.

Which seems to be perhaps what Jesus means in the quote above from John. Honestly, since becoming a Christian I have heard and read that verse and thought that it was beautiful but it didn’t connect to anything. It didn’t seem to mean something concrete or, in fact, anything but it is lovely.

Silly me!

Perhaps it is Jesus saying “I am made of the same stuff as God. And you can have this light in your life too, and no matter how horrible things get, which they may get, I will be with you.” And perhaps not in an “invisible friend” way or any way we can understand, but in a “give you strength” way.

FTGOG

 

Genesis 1 and structure

In a commentary that I read recently — but sadly that I cannot find again to give proper credit — the structure of Genesis 1 was pointed out and this has tremendously helped me get it “by heart”. And it is surprisingly simple —

God creates light

God deals with water

God deals with water some more

God finishes organizing light

God adds creatures to water (creating sea monsters)

God adds creatures to earth — and creates humankind

So for purposes of storytelling — when you are standing there smiling because all the words have vanished from your brain: Light, water, water, light, water creatures, earth creatures.

Sometimes the simple things are the best things.

FTGOG

 

Genesis 1-2:3 and what others have to say

Everytime I learn (or try to learn) part of scripture by heart it becomes a lens to seeing the world — and this is amazing at times, and mysterious, strange. Learning Genesis 1 (and a bit)  is truly very difficult and yet the world (despite everything) appears more beautiful than ever. I was amazed driving home from work yesterday at how blue the sky is, how green this patch of evergreens was, how amazing to see a father walking hand in hand with tiny toddler son. There is so much more than just beauty going on in the world. But the beauty catches me by surprise because of my work on learning Gen 1 by heart.

I came across a recent Christian Century this morning, the July 18th issue, and an article by David Grumen discusses Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. At the turn of the last century, in about the 1920s, Teilhard “thought that attributing all sin to a single historical act that might, in fact, not have occurred was grossly immature. And to defend a version of the doctrine of original sin that ignored the evidence of reason and experience diminished its deepest meaning.”

Yep. What he said. Not that I’m going on too far into Genesis 2 (at this time of my life anyway), but what a nice way to just have that clear and written out.

Rachel Held Evans’s book “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” — so far I have only read the Intro and the first chapter but they are excellent, perfect! As she writes so clearly — and go read her not me — every culture has an origin myth and the point of Genesis 1 is that our God created everything — and called everything Good. Including humans. How fantastic and wonderful is that?! How much better than being created to be slaves. How much better to have a world designed with joy and hope instead of war and fear, yes? I can’t wait to read more in her book.

Christian Century, again, had a wonderful essay by the amazingly brilliant Fleming Rutledge in the Sept 12 (2018) issue, “Why does God hide?” Rutledge writes, “God dwells in inaccessible light — light that we can’t directly look at. It’s uncreated light that emanates from God’s very being. This light was already there before God created the light that we see — [as the hymn says] ‘In light inaccessible hid from our eyes.’ ”

Wow!

“God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.”

I have heard this described as God being a verb, that there is no difference between God speaking something and God doing something. God is the “I am”. God verbs us all and everything to life.

But I never before realized that God is light, whatever that is and whatever Godself is, so far beyond our knowledge. So deep into mystery.

Finally, I was trying to tidy up my bookcases, when out fell Madeleine L’Engle’s book “And It Was Good”. I had completely forgotten that I even owned this book. It was published in 1983. On page 30, L’Engle writes, “The amazing thing is that at the beginning there was darkness, formless and empty, and the Spirit brooding, brooding almost as though getting ready to hatch creation, and then the Word shouting for joy, and here we are! The Word spoke, and from nothing came the glory and the music and pattern of a universe.” While L’Engle doesn’t seem to speak to my heart the way she did earlier in my life when a book falls off the shelf you better pay attention to it.

All of these writers are — as with me — not denying the “myth-iness” of Genesis, or denying evolution and science, or trying to twist everything into something that it isn’t. The Bible is a big messy book as full of boring begats and detailed sea voyages and genocide and rape and so on as much as it is full of beauty and hope and love and humor and talking donkeys and so on. These stories fascinate me and enrich my life and give me eyes to see the world in ways that otherwise I would be blind to. And to my surprise Genesis 1 (and a smidge) is everywhere! I find joy and surprises in dwelling on a story or a section long enough to learn it by heart, to have the words running in my mind as I fall asleep and at red lights and intermingling with my days.

 

 

Sun and moon and Genesis 1-2:3

Goodness, getting the 4th day by heart is a bit daunting. First off, I sort of drift off thinking about the sun and moon and beautiful stars. As beautiful as Sky! Also, the lights in the dome of the sky were to “separate the day from the night”. Huh! What a fantastical sort of image, of day and night, light and dark, all mixed together up to now. Maybe like the “tao” symbol, as I understand it, where the black swirl has a dot of white and the white swirl has a dot of black. Maybe far more random like the artwork I sort of remember that was all wild colors and shapes.

I know, I know, the point isn’t to stick on one thing, or to imagine this sort of thing…. maybe the point is to do exactly that! The brilliant and unknown “editor” who wrote this down — I have to think they might be rather pleased that I stuck on this mixed up light/dark entanglement image.

But I am very pleased that the God of Order created day and night, seasons, and years, instead of leaving things mixed up.

My Story part 12

One of the ways in which I see God moving and working in my life is back when I was about 12 or 13. That summer before middle school, if I recall correctly. I was miserable. I don’t think that childhood depression had been invented yet; but in today’s terms perhaps that was what was going on with me. Perhaps it was just “the ugly duckling phase” as my parents would put it. I didn’t have the words to explain that things were ugly on the inside or to explain the depths of how much I did not like myself. It was far worse than just not being pretty or coordinated or so shy I could rarely talk to people.

So one way that God found me was through an public service ad on tv — as best I recall. I tried googling this to see if it was on the web somewhere, but did not find it. So take all this with a grain of salt. What I remember is black screen and a deep voice saying, “Is it better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness?” and the sound of a match being struck and a candle is lit and all is glowing light. (Not from the Bible actually, which I thought it was until I investigated because of writing this. From a man named William Watkinson. And what was the PSA about? I have no idea!)

I thought, “Okay that makes sense. I’ll improve myself. I’ll light ten candles (because ten fingers) and if things are not better after that….”

Things were better after that. I get that my “self improvement” at 13 was mostly selfish — how I looked, how happy I was — but one of my candles was to talk to my parents.

My dad loved to go to garage sales and he would often make me go with him. So I started talking. After a few weekends of this, he goes, “So you have gotten … chatty…lately.” And I beamed at him. “Yes, I’m practicing talking.” “I think you’ve got it,” he said.

As an adult I realize that there was subtext, perhaps.

At the time I felt like a huge success.

Another of my candles was to make friends. And I met a girl named Diane — Diane if you are out there get back in touch with me! She taught me about making friends and being a friend. She saved my life.

Setting achievable goals to tweak your life toward better — that’s essentially what “solution-focused brief therapy” is about, and I highly recommend this problem solving technique. But I didn’t know that of course.  Lighting my “candles” was a gift from God. God reached me where I was and spoke to me in a way I could hear and helped me. And until I started this project of writing down my spiritual memoir stories, I didn’t even know it.

 

Luke 2:25-38 and joy

http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=350805862

So I think perhaps Simeon and Anna were joy-struck. Somehow (the Holy Spirit…) of all the babies they had seen brought to the temple for blessing, this baby, Jesus, stirred their hearts and made them think he was the one: a light, a blessing, a sign. Not just another life, not just another good life. Perhaps not a “good” life at all because being “destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel” does not sound safe and secure and happy to me. There’s going to be conflict, so much so that Mary will suffer, because we suffer when our children suffer. This child was the one.

And they are delighted. They were struck with relief and thankful joy to have lived long enough to be in the presence of the babe who would go up and bring Israel’s light to the whole world. It is not a gift for them that is making them happy, it is a blessing for the world.

Just as Luke’s angel declares to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people”. You can hear it as just one set of people or you can take that “all” seriously and I take it seriously indeed. This joy is a love for all — a radical love that has no boundaries, that has no limits, that wants everything made whole, that shares and grows and is full. An abundant love.

This harks back, so my footnotes say, to Isaiah 49:6:

[The Lord] says,

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to restore the survivors of Israel;

I will give you as a light to the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It would be too easy to just save Israel. God wants the whole world to be saved. Saved from battles and strife and hunger and pain and suffering. Saved from economics that separate and hurt. Saved from a yardstick that only measures by “worldly riches”. Saved by giving.

I think it says a lot that Simeon and Anna were full of joy and thanksgiving at this news from the holy spirit, instead of bitter and anger that it didn’t come sooner. By their joy, the good news of redemption was already a treasure they had, yes? Just as we do: The Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand, Jesus will grow up to say. Not yet, but here.

FTGOG

John the Baptist in the Gospel of John

The John the Baptist in the Gospel of John is a little different. Of course the basics are the same: John the Baptist came first, he is human, he is a prophet, he was killed. But the language, the story, is pretty different. I love this rich language. In a bit we come to John’s very different story of John the Baptist and Jesus meeting and that’s a story I would like to learn “by heart”.  For right now look at this verse (I usually am a story person but this verse leaps out at me):

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

These words just shimmer to me, just glow with hope. In fact there’s a song with similar words that gets ear-wormed in my head and I love it.

Jason Gray “With Every Act of Love”

He sings: “Jesus help us carry you/Alive in Us/Your Light Shines Through” — a really great song even if it gets stuck in your head!

So I’m going to tackle this part of John, and hopefully, prayfully, let Light shine, amen!