By Rev. Denise Griebler, St. Peter’s Episcopal Detroit, January 10, 2021 (Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11)
In the beginning…
In times like this it’s good to turn to the stories that ground us – that remind us who we are, who we are not; to Whom we belong and to Whom we do not belong.
The creation story that begins the story of the people of Israel is one of those stories. In the beginning…
It was written during a time of crisis – their country invaded and occupied, the leaders had been executed and the ruling and professional classes were captured and forceably removed from their homes, land and country and exiled. It was during exile that the people turned to the old stories to remember who they still were, and to Whom they still belonged.
This story of the beginning is a resistance story. And it was different from the origin story of the people who had captured them. It was radically different from the origin story of the surrounding culture which explained how chaos was overcome by force and violence. The male hero, Marduk, kills the feminine sea-monster Tiamot. Civilization is imposed to dominate and destroy chaos. In the Babylonian god defeats chaos and creates order through empire. This is the story of how it all began.
But in the Hebrew story of beginnings, the feminine Spirit-wind of God – Ruah – broods over the deep. God uses words: Light! Day! Night! Land! Plants! Creatures! Human Beings! And declares each good. The wild natural world that God is creating is good. It happens through imagination and word and agency, not violence. And it is still happening. God is not done with creation or with us.
Most English translations of the Hebrew creation story begin thus: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Today we read a different translation that is arguably more faithful to the original: “In the beginning when God was creating . . .
It reminds us that it didn’t happen all at once. It was a creative process still unfolding, still creating. The God’s Spirit-wind – Ruah – is still brooding and moving and creating.
In a way, origin stories are always search for answers and explanations. This is a moment of wanting and grasping for answers and explanations. It is a time for action. But it is also a deeply a time for remembering, listening and telling the truth. Let it be a time of honest reckoning about who we have been and what we have become.
I don’t know what these next weeks will bring. I want to say and celebrate that Trump will be gone and Biden will be installed as the next President and that’s that. (I cringe at the thought celebrating a Biden presidency or cheering on the use of force to enforce the people’s vote.) But the waters really are troubled and there are many things that could happen. I’m grateful that we are paying attention and that we are in this together.
I do believe and take heart in the notion that God’s wildly creative Spirit is brooding over these troubled and deep waters.
In the Gospel Jesus goes out with the crowds of people who are walking out of the Temple and city to the wilderness where John is inviting people to get into the living, moving, wild and untamed waters of the Jordan River. It is a summons to the wild margins. (I cannot help but hear Trump’s tweet ringing in my mind: Come to Washington. It will be wild. This is not the same kind of wild. Make no mistake. Trump is equating wildness with chaos – a chaos created for his own benefit and power.) John the baptizer summons his followers, including Jesus, to the wild margins so they might remember who they are and Whose they are. And equally, who they are not, and Whose they are not. To remember that the God who created and is still creating does not create by violence, imposing Empire or making deals with Empire, but by Spirit and Word, connected to Earth and creatures and human be-ing. John’s is a summons to remember the time when the waters parted and people escaped from slavery and empire into wilderness and becoming a people who belonged to God and to each other, who learned the lessons of enough, and rest and delight.
The song we just sang, Wade in the Water, which is one of those songs that guided and reminded the people who were escaping slavery 150 years ago in our country. It taught and reminded them to get in the water when they heard the hounds coming. It reminded them that God had parted the waters long ago to set God’s people free. And it reminded them that God could and would stir up waters for healing. When they sang it they were reminded that God was with them and that God was not done with them, and so they should not give up. It was a summons and a reminder to keep going.
When I am discouraged and afraid, sometimes the most important thing for me to hear or to remember is that the story isn’t over yet. That the wild Spirit of God – Ruah – is still brooding over the troubled and deep waters, still moving, still imagining, still creating.
I wonder what these next days, weeks, months and years will bring. I confess that I feel worried and even afraid. But I am also hopeful that healing may come. We will have to get in the water and listen and remember and begin to create a story that tells the truth. One that imagines a way forward for us to be good and makes the world a place where it’s easier for us all to be good. Where we honor the teaching and the restraint of enough, and rest, and delight. A Way that knows that we belong to God and to each other.
The holy and wild Spirit-Wind of God is brooding over this land and these waters. Amen.