Texts for June 7, Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8
Here’s the image I want you to hold in your head for a few minutes. It’s the image of Earth as seen from space. Can you picture it? Maybe you watched the recent rocket launch and you’ve had a refresher. In the image of Earth I’m thinking of you see clouds swirled around what appears to be a blue and green marble. Depending on your perspective you might be able to pick out the continents. You might see places where the green fades to brown. You might even see city lights or plumes of smoke and dust.
What we’re looking at, in the eye of our imagination, is every place we have ever been, the home of every person that has ever lived. We’re looking at a thin layer of life sandwiched between rock and atmosphere. And against the vast darkness of space Earth looks small and fragile, like you could pinch it between finger and thumb.
I’m sure the poets that wrote Psalm 8 and the opening chapter of Genesis would have pointed us to this picture, if they could have imagined it. Here’s the voice of the psalmist:
When I look at the 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?
Here’s the voice of the saga of Genesis:
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 together he called Seas.
And God saw that it was good.
The New York Times recently ran an article about a young man who emerged from a silent retreat at the end of last month—at the end of May. Ellen Barry wrote the piece I’m thinking of and Daniel Thorson was the guy on the retreat. Thorson began his separation from the world in mid-March. On May 23, after 75 days in solitude, he left his little cabin in Vermont and logged back into Twitter. He asked the world, “Did I miss anything?”
From March to May, did he miss anything? One of the replies to Thorson’s question on Twitter was something like, “Welcome back Daniel. It turns out we’ve all been on solitary-retreats.”
Billions of kids home from school. Universal social-distancing. The prime minister of the UK hospitalized. Debates about masks. Window visits at care homes. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. A lot has happened on this little blue and green marble.
I’m not sure how we would hear these two passages, Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, if we had missed the last few months. But we haven’t. And so we hear them in the midst of our fear: our fear of infection, our fear of social chaos. We hear these passages in the midst of our weariness: our weariness of working and caring for kids, our weariness of being stuck at home, our deep weariness of watching black bodies subject to violence. We hear these passages in the midst of our worry: our worry about our income, our worry about our loved-ones, our worry about our education.
But here’s what we should remember. It’s in the middle of things, in the claustrophobia of history, in real situations, that God speaks. This is when God addresses folks. Not when we’re cut off from reality. Did Moses hear from God in an abstract question? Did Hagar hear from God when things were humming along? Did Peter hear from God when his ministry was on the level? No, these people heard from God in times of instability and trouble.
What might God be saying to us as the phrases from Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 role about in our minds, in our ears, across out tongues?
I would never pretend to know exactly how God might be addressing you. That is your own work. But what I hear is summed up in that image of the earth in space, the vulnerability of life hung impossibly in the cold emptiness.
We are nothing without that thin skin of an atmosphere. We are nothing without those puzzle pieces of green capturing the sun’s energy and handing it off to creatures like us. We are nothing without that pure blue, water cycled again and again through pumps we could never devise. We are nothing without the virtually incalculable web of relationships and dependencies that interlace the wisp of cloud, the green of land, the blue of the ocean.
Here is the voice of Genesis:
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”
And God saw that it was good.
And God saw everything that was made, and indeed it was very good.
The divine invitation I sense in these passages is the invitation to take notice of the world in which we live. That’s what the psalmist does: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
To see Earth from the perch of space is to see some of our squabbles and our posturing as the silliness that it is. How much of our worry is like children fighting over space in the back set while the car motors through the Rocky Mountains? We are but mortals, here and then gone. But we are blessed mortals who bear the image of the Creator and find ourselves wrapped in the marvels of the creation.
There are real problems afoot. And we must do our part in the spaces in which we move. Oh yes, faithfulness to the One who created all demands nothing less! But what I’m talking about is where we go for sustenance and peace. For our encouragement God has given us this good . . . this very good, world. As the biblical writes knew so well, we do not awake to find ourselves in a machine, but in a blue green poem, spooling out across space and history.
What I hear from God, at this point in time, is an invitation to contemplate this world with its many plants and many creeping things. What I hear from God, at a time of weariness, worry and fear, is a reminder to take joy in the wild animals, the sea monsters, the plants yielding seed, and the birds of the air.
There we find ourselves, equally mortal and equally blessed. Amen.