I’m given a fresh start every Monday—a white page, a cup of coffee, and strangers sharing a pew. Not everyone is so lucky. A bad sermon usually lives a couple hours until it’s forgotten. Those who do remember usually don’t retain what was said or how I said it, but how it made them feel and want to live their lives. So I till the soil. Again. It’s a moment of limitless potential; what will come, where I’ll be taken or surprised, I cannot say. But there will be a first word, like the first stroke on a canvas or the glob of clay that’s slammed on the wheel. Fragments are joined together, and it’s all seemingly random, until it’s not. There is nothing, then something. It’s ex nihilo, out of nothing—almost.
But I know better. It’s never that romantic. Sometimes it’s a lousy date and the conversation takes a bit of work. I grab the first idea that darts from here to there and pin it down. It’s a starting place. I grab the second and then third until something starts to flow and take shape.
I used to wonder what would happen if nothing showed up, but something always does, even if it means reaching into a tornado (and more often, the stillness before the chaos) and grabbing whatever I can hold on to. Inspiration always has a genesis, a becoming that actualizes from somewhere— a conglomeration of places, like whatever is bringing me life or what happens to be the morning’s news or a Phd who has dedicated her life to one author, one chapter, one verse in this book. This collides with God and a church that is trying to find its way. It’s all chaos until the Spirit of God comes to hover over it.
All of this has been said too many times, in much better ways. What’s more interesting is whether God has the same issues. It reminds me of the very first two verses in Scripture:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
It’s one of my favorite heresies—that God doesn’t create from nothing, but rather in and with the anarchy. And, as far as I can tell, it’s more faithful to the creation poem. Where’s ‘the nothing’? The first couple of lines of Genesis reminds us that God creates from, or with, the deep—the tehom. Darkness covered the ‘wild,’ ’waste’—the ‘chaos.’ And God swept over the face of the deep. Catherine Keller writes beautifully about this, demonstrating that the chaos isn’t necessarily evil, but an opportunity—more like a resting note or a semi-colon. (She also continues to show how creatio ex profundis dismantles Christian imperialism, patriarchy, dominance, the oppression of people of color. Give credit where it’s due). *See footnote*
Creation has its genesis in the midst of chaos.
And doesn’t it always?
Here’s why it matters: creation is still creating, which is something we don’t have to look very far to notice. The universe expands, organisms mutate, creation is renewed out of destruction. That’s good news because some lives are filled with more chaos than order. The loss, anxieties, the hunger, the war. The chaos is not from God’s hands, nor is it necessarily serving a divine plan, but it can still be a catalyst for something else—not back toward the life you had before, but to find the courage to venture into the formlessness where there is great suffering, but maybe also grace.
When we are in the dark waters, or find ourselves wading and hanging on to a life preserver, God creates. Can the church go together, with God, into the deep and see what can be created on the other side?
It speaks into the story of Jesus who self-empties into the world, into the darkness of a womb as the Spirit again hovered over the waters. He makes space in the chaos of a young girl engaged to Joseph. His ministry was about the waste: barrels of water to wine and five leftover loaves feed the people. It’s the people who are pushed into the margins because they don’t fit neatly into the order of the world who are most likely to receive. The chaos of Good Friday as the sky darkens and the earth shakes collides with forgiveness, light, resurrection and something new emerges that was not possible before. It’s messy--even Jesus' body is hard to parse, where the divine begins and the natural ends. And we are held captive by hope that our lives can be the same.
In the Hebrew Bible the only subject for the verb ‘create’ is God and it’s above my pay-grade to know whether it began from nothing or with material. But we, made in God’s image, surely co-operate in God’s endless creativity as God’s love spills over and into every dark crevice of our world. The creation poem helps me to remember that there was disarray and waste before something new emerged. That's true for us, too. Beautiful photographs, the hymns with the greatest thrust, are born in and out of destruction—an act of resistance and a testament to the light.
Each week I embrace creation in the messiness of the quiet, blank screen, the bad sentences, the repetition, the smell of bagels and coffee. I start with disorder and then, there is becoming, a genesis.
*Pump your breaks, orthodoxy police. Could I be anthropomorphizing God? Probably. I have no real theory worked out, and that’s ok. I get it—creation out of nothing helps us maintain the distinction between God and the world, that we are ontologically different, and don’t lapse into pantheism. God is transcendent, with an infinite difference from us, not dependent upon anything for something to become actualized. And God creates, not out of necessity, but out of excess love that spills over…blah, blah, blah.*
Much more can be said, but not for the purposes of this blog or probably 99.9% of the readers.