In these early weeks of Ordinary Time, Cycle 1, the Church begins a semi-continuous reading of the Book of Genesis in the daily lectionary. “In the beginning . . . “we began yesterday, and today we hear proclaimed the second half of the poetic first account of the creative activity of God.
Opening with the 5th day of creation the reading describes how God is filling the seas with and abundance of swimming creatures and causing the air to teem with flying creatures. All of this creative ferment fills this “day” which we understand lasted millions of years. The passage continues with the sixth day when God creates animals on the earth and ends the day with the creation of the human, male and female. Only then does the Biblical author describe the wondrous day of rest, the seventh day, when all creating is finished. In addition to the sheer beauty of the images and the poetic flow of the lines, this first story of creation has some important theological themes that we can bring to prayer.
I think we are tempted to imagine this creative activity as happening long ago and far away “when” God started everything. This very deistic imagination flows from the Enlightenment and obscures one of the most important faith dimensions of the story: this account describes what is happening right now. This isn’t about four thousand years before Jesus (as our creationist friends contend) nor is it about something that happened hundreds of millions of years ago as our scientific friends insist. This is all about what God is doing right now. God is creating us, our world, our universe, millions of creatures right this instant. God’s abundant and wildly inventive power to cause the earth to “teem” with creatures is still being unleashed moment to moment. Thoughtfully, lovingly, with infinite tenderness and care God is evoking and weaving the entire Universe, both as we know it and as we cannot yet imagine it, into existence this very second. Momently God is desiring, imagining and bringing forth all of this glorious cosmos and the creatures that inhabit it.
When did God begin creating this universe? Scientists today estimate hundreds of millions of earth years (the movement of the planet earth around the star that is our sun) ago, but how can we even talk with certitude of how long ago, because time, as we calibrate it now, had not begun since the bodies that mark it hadn’t yet evolved (the cosmic bodies, I mean, much less the human bodies and minds). I find more and more often that I chuckle at efforts to define when creation happened, as if it can only be thought of as a finished past event, when in truth, it is a becoming that we are in the midst of.
Today’s first reading, then, reminds us that God is imagining us into being even as we write or read these words, or go about our life. God is creating us in the Divine image and we are good. Further, God is creating us for the wondrous, joyful flourishing of the whole created order made present in the relaxing, resting and relating to the Divine Self that points to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
Just as the Church opens the new cycle of ordinary time with the basic story of our faith, so we are also engaged in following closely the Gospel of Mark on these ordinary weekdays. This provides an interesting counterpoint to the Gospel of Matthew that we are pondering in the Sunday lectionary. Mark moves quickly through the key events of Jesus’ ministry bringing us to the conflict with religious and civil authorities much more quickly than we might be ready for.
Today the Gospel text challenges us to get our priorities in order. God’s desire is essential, and is all about right relationships to family, community, religious structures. Human planning is often about economic or social security – and will always leave someone out of the flourishing. As we pray for God’s Kingdom (the fullness of the 7th Day) to come on earth we need to hear and pay attention to Jesus’ values, which describe what we are being created for.
Oh Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!
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