Genesis 1 – 2:1
Growing up in my family, the biggest offense one could commit, the act that would land one in the deepest of trouble with my mother, was to intentionally hurt another person, and it did not matter whether that was physical or emotional hurt. Poor grades, neglected chores, and even refusing to go to church could all be managed. But yelling at one’s younger brother, telling him he was “so stupid he did not deserve to live;” or taking, without asking, one’s sister’s cream color sweater (the one she bought with her own money) and after inadvertently ruining it and stashing it in the trash, and then standing there silently while said sister melts down in pool of pure frustration because she cannot find her sweater and cannot imagine what she did with it – well that was crossing the line. Not honoring another, causing hurt to another was a most grievous offense in my house.
And being such a grievous offense, the consequence of intentionally hurting another was equally severe. The consequence of harming another, was to be grounded – and for a whole week! “If you cannot honor the relationships that you are blessed to have,” the thinking went “then it is high time you came down to size.” And no better way to come down to size in my household than by grounding. No phone calls. No hanging out with friends. No seeing the boyfriend. Straight to school and straight home afterwards. Those weeks that I was grounded, and I admit there were at least a couple of them in my adolescent years, were some of the longest of my life.
Intentionally causing harm to another was the greatest of offenses in my household — but not just mine alone.
Intentionally causing harm to another, I believe is also the greatest of offenses in the Household of God. We are commanded to love our God and each other with our whole selves. We are commanded to love and this means we are to want nothing more and to work with open hearts for the well-being of others. To love is to modulate our actions so that not only do they not harm another, but so that they may actually contribute to the thriving of another. Jesus says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love them so completely that we cannot be well, satisfied, and happy until they too are well, satisfied, and happy.
So if this is the commandment that dictates how we as a species are to live, then a cursory glance around the globe would confirm that we have fallen short. Terribly short. Not only are we as a species not loving our neighbors, whether they be flora or fauna, with our wholes selves but we are actually causing them harm. We are transgressing God’s commandment in the most greivous way. And God, that heavenly parent of ours, I believe would be very much within God’s right to ground us all and for a lot longer than a week!
But of course, in a way, God already has grounded us, and this grounding, it turns out, is not a punishment but is, in fact a blessing. Let me explain.
In the opening chapter of the book of Genesis we have this most amazing poetry of becoming. Stars are spun. Water is separated. Land is formed. Animals are set down on the land. Fish are set free in the sea. Birds take to the air. All that is pulsates with life. What a wonderful vision of each having their place, each having what they need. And in the midst of it all, there we are, set down on this beautiful living breathing world, set down on this amazing creation with God’s blessing of tov – goodness, fullness, rightness, sweet shalom upon it. It is here that God has grounded us. Not bereft of relationship but caught up in an “inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” To borrow Dr. King’s words.
Now what is so amazing about this creation story is not just the beauty and blessing of which it speaks, but, as Biblical scholars tell us, what is amazing about it is just how different it is from other near east creation stories.
Take Emumah Elish, the Babylonian creation myth. This myth is believed to have been composed somewhere between the 18th and 16th century BCE. The story is full of violence, jealous, and death as a pantheon of gods vie for supremacy. Finally it is a god named Marduk who rises up and galvanizes a cohort of god’s to team up on Tiamet, the godess who until then held the most power. They rise up against her and she is killed. Marduk tears her body in half and from it forms the earth and the sky. And then Marduk kills Tiamet’s husband and from his blood creates human being. Marduk creates human beings from the blood of his slain enemy, not so that Marduk can love human beings and care for them, but so that there will be slaves to meet the needs of Marduk and the pantheon of other gods.
That’s the Babylonian creation account but there are also accounts from Sumeria, and Egypt and while there are distinct differences between them, one commonality is that creation is the result of a battle. The god’s are vying with one another to see who is going to come out on top and it is from the spoils and slaughter of this battle that the world is formed. And the other commonality is that human beings are created so that the lesser gods no longer have to serve the higher gods. Humans are created as slaves to the gods to do the work needed to keep the gods happy.
It is interesting to think about these myths and why they exist. I remember my English teacher in high school saying that ‘Myths hold the history that people forgot.” Myths are not made-up stories but instead they are stories that encode and contain deep truths and core elements of who we are. I think that what makes a story really a good one is the degree to which it taps into the deep truths and core elements of who we are and how we are in relation to all that is. It is not that the story creates those truths but becomes instead the means through which those truths are encountered.
We know that there is so much hurt and hardship. So much suffering. People have seen this and experienced it throughout the ages. But what is amazing about our ancestors of faith is that instead of looking all at of this and saying “yup, that is just how it is,” they looked at it and knew it was wrong. That was not how it was supposed to be. They saw that brokenness was a transgression, not the standard but the aberration.
So how did our ancestors of faith come to understand the brokenness and pain around them? They understood it as not the foundational reality in which we are destined to live but as the consequence of the battle Adam and Eve waged within their own hearts. Our ancestors of faith saw the pain and brokenness around them, and they understood it to be the consequence of humanity’s own poor choices and lack of stewardship of that which God had given. That is the truth to which the fall story, that temptation of the serpent and the eating of the apple, points.
And so our ancestors of faith, encountered a truth, touched a deep wisdom that set them apart from the other peoples of the region. The wars that are raging now are not simply the continuation of the war of the gods that have been and will always be. No — they are a result of our fallen nature. But the true nature of reality, they saw and I believe, is one of harmony.
To be grounded in this creation story in Genesis is, therefore, to be grounded in a very different orientation towards what it means to be alive in this world. We are not to be little gods battling over who gets to be on top but reflections of the one God who brought all that is into being not with a sword but with a blessing. We are not to enslave ourselves, or others or natural world but we are to tend to others and to the world with love and care, just as God has tended to us.
And so the crux of it really is “will we accept being grounded?” Will we take up our place in the family of things (to borrow a phrase from poet, Mary Oliver)? I find it fascinating that an original definition of humility is “to be grounded.” Humility holds in it the root word Humus which of course means “earth”. To be humble is to be earthy. It is to be grounded.
I hear a lot from my friends whose kids are in college or off on their own that they are thinking about down-sizing. And while we may think of that as germane to a particular stage of life, I think it is helpful to consider in whatever stage of life we are in. Have we become too much? Have we recast ourselves not as brothers and sisters to the caterpillar and to the moon but as little gods using whatever we can get our hands on for our own gain? Have we lost what it is to be humble, to be grounded, to be of this earth? Have we instead become lost, fallen, unrooted, unmoored to the goodness that the rest of creation seems instinctively to know?
Now coming down to size. Being grounded. Taking up our place in the family of all things is not just the right thing to do but it is where our happiness lies. That is the truth of it. St. Augustine is to have said referring to God “our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.” I would reword that a bit and say we will forever be restless until we come home to our rightful size and our rightful place within creation.
Now, I remember that as much as I professed to hate it there was actually a kind of relief in being grounded. I did not want to harm others and deeply regretted when I found myself doing so. There was a relief in being grounded and spending that time re-grounding myself in what it was to be home, to be a part of my household and the values that framed it.
So let’s come home to the household of God. Let’s re-grounded ourselves not above or over but within the family of things. If you need help in thinking about what the steps to doing so may look like for you, come to our adult ed. offering after church today “Eating as if creation matters!” Talk to Kevin Johnson about Carbon Pricing or Susan Hunt Stevens about incremental changes you can make in how you move in the world. Talk with me about what a return to the garden could look like for you.
Let our living proclaim the core truth our ancestors of faith lifted up so long ago. The world is God’s beloved creation and as God loves so too shall we. As God blesses and cares, so too shall we. So let us take up our place in the family of things and may that bring us true freedom, pure joy and everlasting peace. May it be so, Amen!