Sermon September 6, 2015 ‘Creation’ - Worship in the Woods
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4 Jerusalem Bible
Elaine Pryce, A Quietness Within: The Quiet Way as Faith and Spirituality, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #434, Pendle Hill Publications, 2015, pps. 7-10.
James Weldon Johnson, God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, Penguin Books, 1927.
Explanation of poem ‘The Creation’; http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/johnson/creation.htm
Pastor Ruthie Tippin, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting
Ask people to read portions of the scripture reading for the day, one person per ‘day’.
We have begun worship today in stillness… but it was not silent. Instead, it was filled with a cacophony of sounds all around us. Gathering in the woods today, we hear faint sounds of humankind, but we also are much more aware than usual of birdsong, wind rush, cracking twigs, leaves dancing.
Scripture as we know it begins with the mystery of a formless void shrouded in darkness called ‘the heavens and the earth’. But the void, or space, was not empty… it was filled with God’s presence and power... ‘God’s spirit hovered over the water’, as scripture describes it… ‘a bird hanging in the air, watching over its nest full of young.’ [Deuteronomy 32]
This is seen in the creation story – God fills the silence and void with Godself – first showing who God is with light, then sea and dry land, vegetation – filled with life bearing fruit and seeds hidden inside, sun and moon creating times and seasons, creatures for sea, sky and land, and finally… man and woman. God saw Godself in all of creation… light that lives with but is never overcome by darkness; powerful, fluid movement and strong, firm foundation; life that recreates life and holds life within itself; times and seasons unending; sustenance for heart, soul, mind, strength; and best of all – companionship. Presence. Just as Eve was present to Adam and Adam was to Eve, so God was to them, for them, in them. God revealed. They revealed God to one another. Made in God’s image, they showed each other what God was like. God present in humankind. ‘God saw all that God had made, and indeed it was very good.’
How often are you and I willing to start in emptiness, and allow God to create – to recreate – Godself in us? How many times have you or I allowed God’s Spirit to hover over us, like an eagle over its nest full of young dependent offspring, waiting for God to fill us? How often have we hauled our own vegetation, our own water supply, our own calendar of times and seasons with us into our relationships with others, without waiting to see what God has to reveal to us? If we, as Quakers, as Friends, truly acknowledge the power of God’s presence; if we understand God as one who speaks directly to us without need for any intercessor; if we acknowledge God as having spoken the world into creation; why do we not allow more stillness, more openness in our lives, for the experience of recreation? It’s a mystery.
Elaine Pryce is a Friend in the United Kingdom, and has recently been published in a Pendle Hill Pamphlet entitled “A Quietness Within: The Quiet Way as Faith and Spirituality”. I want to share a bit of what Elaine has to say about mystery with you this morning: ‘Mystery itself is what we know we don’t know. Sometimes, mystery is what we can’t know, given the limitations of this human plane. “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?” Job asks in the Bible, “Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens. What can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave. What can you know?” [Job 11:7-9] For the quietist, this not knowing expresses a quality of the sacred. Its hiddenness, its mystery lives ever present, like a seed within the earth… waiting for optimal conditions to germinate, to be revealed.
Mystery in its sacred sense, also suggests another kind of not knowing – an attentive, conscious unknowing. Mystery is a letting go of everything we think we know about God. Whatever we perceive God to be, whatever meaning we invest in the word “God”, conscious unknowing means releasing our hold on our perceptions and images of God in order to let God be who God is. This is equivalent to a voluntary step into the transforming dark in order to make our faith more real.
A Kenyan friend, studying African creation myths, told me of a myth describing this transition from imaging the divine to a more authentic experience. At the beginning of time, God created the earth, its creatures, and humankind. However, humans would not let God be. They made constant requests, petitions, and complaints. Finally one night when they were sleeping, a wearied God decided to leave. When the people awoke and discovered God’s absence they ran about in panic, calling for God to return. But after a while, they realized something had changed. Everything around them, the earth, the night sky, the creatures of the earth, even themselves, had acquired a sublime beauty. God had gone, yet only to be present in a different way than they had envisaged.
Previously, God had been created by the people in the image of utility, shaped to fit the stockpile of their own needs. As if peering down the wrong end of a telescope, they had missed the more expansive, more paradoxically truthful view they came to realize later. God in absence is yet present as God truly is. God, spirit, the eternal, is Presence itself. Moreover, in this Presence, in God-being, they were enabled to be present to each other as human-being reflecting God-being. As Quakers say, “There is that of God in everyone.” Or to put it another way, there is that of everyone in God. The American writer Annie Dillard, after an experience of mystical insight, aptly describes this process of conceptual transfiguration: “It was as if God had said, ‘I am here, but not as you have known me.”
The early Quaker George Fox recorded a similar life-changing shift in onsciousness. The realignment of consciousness was so profound and life changing for him that he was never the same angst-filled, desperate-for-answers, pacing-about-the-countryside, Leicestershire lad again. Following the torment and struggle of letting go of one kind of God – the God of the intellect – he found another. He was astounded by the encounter. For him, this was the Christ within, the very one, he said who could “speak to my condition”. “My heart did leap for joy,” he wrote in his journal. The heart for Fox became a metaphor for a centered inwardly focused faith – that is, a consciousness-changing faith. Soon after his initial transformation experience, he was to write in 1653 of the “mystery’ of the second birth. By this he meant a spiritual rebirth, a new realization in the individual which accesses knowledge of God, who exists both beyond and before the advent of time. This mystery he connected to silence and to a God who is accessible through the way of stillness and peace. He later defined ‘the stillness and quietness in the pure spirit of God” as a condition which allows the mystery – the “veiled” and “hidden” things of God – to be revealed in a new kind of spiritual consciousness.”
Creation then, is not a matter of six or seven 24 hour periods, of getting the order correct in reciting the first account in Genesis, or of knowing science or scripture well, for that matter. It is really unknowing, and allowing God to fill the void in your heart and mine… in your spirit and mine… with Godself. With what God has of Godself to do and to be. With what God wants us to experience in recreating ourselves time and time again, in a transformative relationship with One who is present.
“…we can only really know God by experience – that is, by experiencing the fundamental being and character of God, which is pure love and Presence itself. As George Fox wrote in his letters to Quaker groups, God is accessible only through experiencing, and this occurs in the silence, when all words – all definitions, all thoughts, all rational intricacies – have ceased. We need to enter a new world of being, he wrote, a world of silence before God; to die to our own natural wisdom, reasonings, and understandings, so that we can experience the life of God within.” [Elaine Pryce]
Reading: ‘The Creation’; James Weldon Johnson, 1922(scroll down for poem)
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I'll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That's good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That's good!
Then God himself stepped down--
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas--
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed--
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled--
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That's good!
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I'm lonely still.
Then God sat down--
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I'll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.