Day 7, It Is Finished

” God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

Genesis 1:31

Day 7, It Is Finished

The seventh day was the first thing to be made sacred by God in Scripture. Later, when Moses recorded God’s ten commandments, the fourth one about keeping the Sabbath is grounded in this passage, right here.

So, what are we to make of all this? What can this millennia-old account of creation have to do with you and me, in our world of science and technology, reason and practicality? And this is where theology comes in–not trying to make the science we have so far fit with this ancient record, and not trying to decide what’s “true,” for our today science, or for the science of antiquity.

This story was told to get across some key principles of how we humans are to see our place in the grand metanarrative of creation.

  • While the rest of the western world has ramped up the pace in every aspect of life, seeking to fill every moment with productivity, where worldly wisdom insists quality time can replace (or perhaps trump) quantity of time, it is notable that God took His time.

He is, after all, the mighty all-powerful potentate of the universe. He is infinite and eternal in all of Who He is. His power and creativity are inexhaustible.        Therefore, God could certainly have created all that is, in a moment. Yet, the Lord chose to span the course of His creative acts over six time periods, and He chose an entire time period, of equal length with the others, to admire, and enjoy His works.

In the original ancient text, the seventh day was described in the seventh paragraph of the creation story. In fact, this is the seventh paragraph, on the seventh day of creation. “Seven” symbolizes perfection, wholeness, and completeness, there is nothing else to be added. It is finished.

The seventh paragraph has thirty-five words, Seven times five. “Five” was the ancient symbol of God’s grace. It is, in its way, the perfection of perfect grace.

God created for six days and then He rested; that is, on the seventh day, God entered into a relationship with His creation. God praised His work, enjoying all that He had made, finding pleasure in it, the overflow of His love and happiness going out to the whole universe.

The word “seven,” the word “Sabbath,” and the word “rest,” are all the same basic word in Hebrew, Shabat, seven, Sabbath, rest.

God stopped because He was through. Creation was finished, and what God had done deserved honor and praise, to be taken great pleasure and joy in. God took His time. Therefore, we, as His image bearers, are to enjoy His creation, and our own work as well. When we produce something good, it is godly to enjoy it.

  • God was careful to assign governance and boundaries to each aspect of His creation—the celestial orbs have governance over seasons, tides, migrations, and prophetic harbingers of God’s arrivals. Each variety of life was given its ecosystem, and its kind. Humankind was also given governance over the all the earth, as representatives of God’s presence.

It is significant that God did not give human beings rankings—it was not the Lord who advised the most powerful, the smartest, the most able, or technologically advanced to be given more privilege and authority. God spoke very clearly to humanity, in His instructions to them. (this idea is not new to me. In his book “Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family,” Gilbert Bilezekian makes an excellent case for this insight.)

According to the Christian Standard Bible translation (Genesis 1:28-30):

“God blessed them,” [emphasis mine; male and female, woman and man]

“and God said to them,” [emphasis mine; female and male, both the man and the woman]

“Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth,” Though the woman would be the bearer of each new human life, she could not bring them forth without the man. By the same token, the man would be profoundly helpless in bringing forth life without the woman.

“and subdue it.” ‘Subdue’ in the way the Lord would lovingly transform new and wild into seasoned and well-formed, mature, lacking in nothing.

“Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” Again, ‘rule’ in the way the Lord governs His universe, with love and wisdom, gentleness and intent to bring to full potential.

“God also said, ‘Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This will be food for you, for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food.’”

God was detailed in His instructions, and specific. Had He desired to rank human beings in the way He had ranked other life forms, and the sky’s constellations, He certainly would have done so. But, He pointedly did not.

The church, then, is to be the display of God’s original intent—that humanity together, without ranking, to govern not each other, but the earth, with the same pleasure, grace, joy, satisfaction, and measured time that God Himself gives.

Among each other, the church is to display the very image of God in joyful cooperation, and collaboration; that all persons within the church share equally in all aspects of the life of the church just as all Persons within the Godhead share equally in all aspects of Who God is.

[Episodes in the book of Genesis. Oil painting by a Spanish painter. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]

Filling the Form

“I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:19

Day 4, filling the form

On the first day God brought forth light, now He filled the sky with points of light

God wanted people to know that He is the source of light and life. Light and life were both present on earth before God moved the sun into position in earth’s sky. An interesting aside, when astronauts brought some rock samples back from the moon and dated them, guess what they learned? The moon is younger than the earth.

It took someone else, a commentator, to point out to me that God did not give the sun, planets, moon and stars, the authority to govern human lives. I wish I had read that when I was thirteen. Enrapt with the uncanny insights of astrology, I believed for years that my entire destiny was written in the stars’ and planets’ movements.

I was not alone. From ancient times pagan religions looked to the heavenly bodies to divine the future, to worship, and to guide their decisions. But astrology, and other forms of worshiping planets and stars goes entirely against God’s purpose for them. God gave the sun, and the moon and stars, subordinate roles. They govern earthly, physical things like the tides, the seasons, the migrations of birds. On occasion they announce God’s coming to earth.

Day 5, filling the form

On the second day God gave the sky and water their boundaries. Now God filled the waters and the air with life.

The words here in the Hebrew describe swarms of small or minute animals, soulish creatures, and winged creatures of every variety, implying insects as well as birds. A combination of both the word “asa,” (to manufacture from substances already in existence), and “bara,” (divine creation, creating something entirely new that never existed before), are used.

How was this life different from plants? These were sentient, or aware, creatures, some even capable of expressing yearnings and will. God blessed His swarming, swimming, flying, wriggling creatures; His rule over them benefitted their life.

Day 6, filling the form

On the third day God gave land its boundaries, and brought forth plants. Now God made livestock, wild animals, things that creep along the ground.

These were also soulish creatures, made for the solid ground, stampeding across the earth in a burst of joyful existence. How I love the orderliness, the logical sequence of complexities, the increasing movement, teeming life, vibrant, rich, full, all building up to the climax.

God created it all and governs it all, having provided boundaries, domains, eco systems. God organized His universe to obey His laws, the laws of physics, which He set into motion. God created life to obey the laws of nature, which He designed.

The end of Day 6, a final flourish

Up until now God moved from one act of creation to the next in a steady crescendo. Now God paused, and announced to His universe what would come next, “Let us make humankind in Our image, after Our likeness”

From the beginning God revealed His triune nature, the presence of God in three Persons – God the Holy Spirit hovering over the formless void, the power of God the Son, God’s living and active Word[1], and the master architect, God the Father

Most likely, it was God as Father speaking, here, into this moment. Again, there is this combination of the Hebrew verbs ‘asa,’ to form, and ‘bara,’ to create, humankind is manufactured from the substances of earth but there is something new here, too, something that is brought into existence which before did not exist. What was different? What was the new element that wasn’t there before, setting humans apart from plants, fish, birds, and animals?

God put the likeness of Himself in every person, creating both men and women in His own image, and making humans, alone of all His creatures, aware of Himself, God. Together women and men were to be an expression of God’s image, each made with a spirit, able to commune with God. Our likeness to God is not so much physical, as it has to do with spiritual dimensions: knowledge, feelings, a will, and the ability to form community among each other.

Think about God’s nature, and how He has imprinted within people something of Himself.

1) A sense of morals has been written, or impressed, by God within the human conscience. Every human, from the very first person to today has this moral consciousness, an understanding of right and wrong. From this rudimentary sense, people have the ability to attain wisdom.[2]

2) We have an ability to think in the abstract, about ideas. Humankind has always had an awareness and concern about death, and existence after physical death. We have the ability to communicate with words.[3]

3) Humans have an innate bent towards love and worship, and a desire to communicate with God.[4]

4) We have this consciousness of self, an ability to love and form relationships.[5]

5) God gave humankind curiosity, a desire to discover and an ability to recognize truth and absolutes.[6]

Just as God had given His divine blessing and command to all the other living, breathing things, so now God blessed and commanded this final flourish of life. Human beings were to be God’s representatives on earth, stewards bearing responsibility to manage earth’s resources, to rule with benevolent care in God’s service and to His glory.

We, alone of all of God’s creation, were made with the capacity to think and maintain relationships because God in His three-ness is a relational God.

God designed humanity to prosper and be blessed according to the principles in His law, just like our universe prospers and blesses us because it works as it was designed to do, it follows the laws of physics and nature.

God gave the whole earth orchards and fields for their daily bread. The killing and eating of each other had not yet begun. And it all brought God so much satisfaction, so much joy; He loved it all with such relish!

Why did God create the universe? Why did God focus His energies on earth? Why did God fill the earth with verdant, vibrant life? Why did God, as His final masterpiece, His flourish, create humanity?

Because it was very good.

Because it brought God pleasure

[1] John 1:1-4 NIV

[2] Romans 2:15 NIV

[3] Genesis 2:17 NIV

[4] Romans 1:21-25 NIV, the implication being if God is not worshiped, then other things will be worshiped. There is no situation in which a person does not worship something, even if that object of worship is themselves.

[5] Genesis 2:18 NIV

[6] Genesis 2:19 NIV

[A diagram of the geological time scale, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain]

Weighty Mysteries

“In the beginning, God…”

Genesis 1:1

The secrets of the very beginning of all things that have ever been, have been here for millennia, for any ordinary person to read. These are the weighty mysteries from which unfold our own beginnings, the meaning of life.

From tranquility to tumult, covering a vast span of time and yet also the tiniest increment of a moment, less than a blink, God spoke, and it was so. God spoke the equation for light, a language we now know, the language of physics, and there was light. We can describe that power, which makes “light” light, but only God actually has that power. When He speaks in the language of physics, He brings into existence what never was before.

Science always seems to be catching up with God. The phrase ‘junk DNA’ is a case in point. As scientists became more adept at gene sequencing, they came across lots of DNA pieces that seemed to have no purpose, and weren’t in use. Researchers surmised this was simply a byproduct of evolution, little bits and pieces cluttering up the helix, no longer needed by the now more complex organism. But, somewhere around 2010, after years of tedious work, laboriously coding and studying every little tiny bit on a DNA strand, scientists discovered an intriguing fact. It’s not junk! All of it has a purpose.

Honestly, that just makes sense. What scientists discover next is not going to somehow disprove something God said here, in the pages of scripture. Theories come and go, but God’s word endures forever. All the discovery of facts in our world is ever going to do is corroborate the true accounts right here in the scriptures.

Commentators have gone over this book with every kind of fine-toothed comb. Reading their thoughts has formed and shaped the writing of these chapters. And yet, teaching what this book means has worked its wisdom and power even deeper into our own inward beings.

Day 1 of forming

In the beginning there was only God. There was no light and dark, there was no sound, or space, there was no passage of time, or movement of any kind. There was no such thing as “senses” to sense His presence, and even if there were, there was nothing for the senses to sense.

In this profound void God’s Spirit hovered, then God spoke. In English, He said, “Let there be light.”  But what about His original language? What did God really say? Did He speak the language of the Hebrews? Did He say, “hayah ‘owr”? Or did He speak an even more ancient language, a language of power that only begins to fathom, measure, and count one small part of this one creative work?

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This is a set of four equations called Maxwell’s equations, the four key equations of electricity and magnetism. Along with light came all the laws that govern the physical universe, the laws of physics.

God set aside an entire day to do this one act of creation. Though the actual moment of creation took an increment of time so small we can hardly measure it, 10−36 seconds, God dedicated a whole time period to bringing forth this massive act of creation.

Day 2 of forming

The word, here, in Hebrew is “asa” which means to manufacture, fabricate, and construct. Imagine this swirl of matter and energy, glowing in space. Then, in a sort of centrifugal motion, God separated matter. As matter cooled, God spread some elements into something less solid. The Hebrew word ‘rakia’ describes an expansion; a space was created. If you were looking up from earth’s surface, you would see an arch forming over the earth getting thinner and thinner as it expanded outward. Uncanny how this works, but these two Hebrew words, “asa rakia,’ together portray a very accurate description of our atmosphere which stretches out over 100 miles high, gradually thinning out.

Again, God set aside an entire time period, called “day,” to spread out earth’s atmosphere.

Day 3 of forming

The pace quickens, events transpire. We don’t get a detailed geological account of how the ground took shape. On day three the existence of solid ground is presumed underneath the water that covered earth. Now God raised up portions of the earth’s crust, rich with the minerals and the necessities for life already in it, ready for plants to grow from.

Remarkably, but not surprisingly, part of what scientists call the fine tuning of the earth is earth’s ratio of 29 percent land surface to 71 percent water surface. Through this design, God provided the absolute maximum possible diversity and complexity for sustainable life.

And here it came, the first burst of life, a sudden profusion of plants, each according to its kind, an amazing array that is reflected in the growing fossil record we have today. Along with life, God called forth the laws of nature, completing the forming of the earth into a home ready to be filled.

(Before we can figure out theology, we have to figure out what’s going on in the text itself. This is my 360° view of this incredible passage of scripture. After we’ve gotten grounded in the story, let’s explore what it means. Next, “Filling the form…”)

Fullness of Joy

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

Psalm 16:11

Day by day God added to His creation. First He caused plants to spring up all over the barren ground. In my mind’s eye I saw a rich jungle of every kind of flower, and tree, grasses, bushes, vines, the soft rustling of leaves in the wind, the pungent smell of wet earth, the silent uncurling of tiny tendrils everywhere, and buds opening…. How God must have loved that day, when everything was coming alive in all the colors you could imagine!

Looking down on the earth, all covered in “vegetation,” you could forget there ever was a firmament! But God had not forgotten at all. Next He put filaments in the firmament (I said that to myself as I read about the lights, and the seasons. One huge filament for the sun, then a glowy blue filament for the moon, and little sparkly dot filaments for all the stars)

But God was not satisfied, not yet. He wanted swarming!! Think of all the swarming flying things, and all the swarming swimming things, and all the swarming crawling things!! Everywhere the grasses swished and trembled with swarming, and all the seaweed swelled and swayed with swimming, and the sky pulsated with all the winged creatures. Like a constantly moving kaleidoscope, the earth was a swirl of movement and hue.

How full the earth must have been. But God wanted even more. Out of the very earth itself God pulled forth creatures, every kind of creature. In the library I had seen National Geographic magazines, and I thought of all the places I had seen within those pages. Africa, and Australia, the steppes of Mongolia, the vast white glaciers of Antarctica.

Everywhere animals were coming right up through ground, polar bears and penguins, giraffes and lions, mongooses and cobras. I watched, in my imagination, whole herds of gazelle forming, then running across massive plains as the lions and cheetahs chased them. This was the vibrant, incredible world that God was making.

Then, my Bible said, God wanted to make men. He wanted these men to subdue this riotous world. “Subdue” meant to tame it all, control it all. I felt sad inside. It was so beautiful!! So wild! I wanted to run like that, be free like that, all warm in the hot sun, climbing trees, swarming through the grasses, swimming in the water. But I had already known, hadn’t I, that men had subdued it all.

So God made the men. Actually, my Bible said God made “males” and “females.”  Huh. Females are called men in this book, I thought. That’s strange.

And God liked them. He gave them the whole world, all the animals, and the plants, all the swarming creatures, all the fruit and vegetables and grains to eat. I wondered how it was that my dad and I ate meat? These first people – and I carefully searched – only ate seeds and fruits.

God loved all of it. It was really good, and He kept saying it, “This is good, very good.”  It was like a song with a chorus. God would make something, then He’d sit back and admire the whole thing and say how good it was. I liked that. I liked it when people knew they’d done something good. My dad knew when he sang something really beautifully. He would have a smile all around his head when people would say, “That was so beautiful, John, you made me cry.”

And I would smile too, because it was true.

(Next post we start back at Genesis 1, this time from a more grownup perspective–but don’t forget how glorious this story is, even as we shift from the riotous extravagance of our right-brain experience, to the cooler, more linear approach of the left-brain experience.)

“In the Beginning!”

“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good”

Genesis 1:3-4

Imagine the thrill of reading “In the beginning!” Not “Once upon a time,” which, though a real favorite of mine, was how pretend stories began. This was a real story, and it began at the very beginning of everything.

I could hardly believe that the secrets of the very beginning of all things that ever have been, were here for any ordinary person to read. How many people get to read about the beginning of all things? And this book had been so casually given! These people knew nothing of me. They paid my father to sing in their church. I had only quietly observed their Sunday school lessons. I had kept most of my thoughts to myself as I listened to the Sunday school teacher talk on about our story for the day.

Enraptured, I read about God’s orderly creation of all things. How sensible, I thought. Of course, first there must be light, so God could see what He was doing. To gather the darkness aside, so that the light would have room was eminently practical. After this God gathered together all the water, which was apparently everywhere, covering everything, and He made a space for the “firmament.”  The firmament was the sky, but such an excellent word. Very like “filament,” I thought, as I looked up at the light bulb in the ceiling light.

After this the water had to be scooped up again, this time so the earth would have a place to be. I loved closing my eyes, imagining the water receding, like one of those films running backwards, the water un-spreading, making tiny slurky sounds as it peeled back from the sky, revealing clouds and light, and peeled back from the ground revealing brown dirt and grey rocks. This is exactly how the beginning was, I thought. Just like this.

Being called to dinner would break into my Bible world, and I would have to emerge into the dinginess of my real life. Then there would be the quiet eating of our pasta fajole (with black beans), or our pasta with red sauce. Soon I would be back with my book, hidden in my room, under the covers.

Every now and then, when I had read a particularly spicy passage, I would let my father know, “I’m reading that Bible, Daddy.”

That’s fine, he would say, absent-mindedly patting my head, reading his own books. I was pretty sure my dad had no idea what was in here.

I remember, once, looking up from my Bible, and watching my father writing on his yellow lined pad. My dad and I were doing our quiet things together, in companionable silence. “I’m reading Genesis,” I said, “It’s got some interesting things in it.”

Oh yes, my father replied, I’m sure it does,

I knew my dad would press down hard as he wrote, leaving a deep indentation in the paper. As I listened, his pencil made a quiet sibilance as it moved across the page. It was early morning for us, and sunlight glowed on his black hair, making the white of his shirt almost brilliant. Tiny motes swirled in the beam as the sun fell on his yellow pad, and his coffee cup, and the libretto he was glancing over, at regular intervals. Let there be light, I thought.

My father was making something too, just like God, forming something as he wrote, creating what had never been before.

Steam rose up from his coffee, turning slowly, making curls of mist in the sun. “Vacca…”  My father said, then pursed his lips. He stopped, his eyes on the yellow pad, looking but not seeing. His gaze was far away as he sat and thought, and as I watched him. “…altalena… porta rugginoso…”

My father was singing to himself, very softly, a whisper. He followed the cadence of the recitative, the part in an opera where the story is being told. “Yes,” he said to himself. “Like a cow, swinging on a rusty gate,” and laughed. He was translating an opera for his friends. They would sing the arias and recitatives at Chez Vito’s for their guests as they ate their dinners.

Then he looked up at me, a halo of sun shining all around him as he smiled. His pencil had become blunt with its journeying across the pad. It was time for me to get the paring knife from our kitchen drawer. I handed it to my father with a sense of anticipation; this was a favorite activity we shared.

He placed the paring blade just below the tip of the pencil’s lead. With a quick snick, a paper-thin shaving of wood floated to the table, and then another as a fine dust of lead appeared on the blade. There was a warm earthy smell of sawdust, as four sharp corners appeared. They almost, but did not quite, meet in a point.

I watched my father’s hands, sensitive to the shape and movement of the knife, the stillness of the pencil. His expert flicks and wicks made the pencil’s point a beautiful sculpture. At school we used a pencil sharpener. But at home my father whittled his pencil just so, and I was his helper.

He set the paring knife down and lifted the pencil close to his eyes, examining its point in the sunlight… He was singing to himself again; his pencil had been approved, and was set to work once more, moving easily in my father’s hand as he thought and wrote.

This is how it must have been, I thought, God with light all around Him, singing to Himself, as He created.

“So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.”

“So I opened my mouth,
and he gave me the scroll to eat.”

Ezekiel 3:2

As soon as I saw my father I held up my Bible with sparkling eyes.

“It’s mine,” I told him, still astonished.

“That’s wonderful, JoJo,” he said, smiling.

“I’m going to read it.”  I surprised myself. I hadn’t really made a decision yet about it. But I realized, as I spoke the words, that it was the only thing I could do. I had been given a book, this beautiful book. Books must be read; it was my duty, and my responsibility. I had been entrusted with it, I must honor the trust. I suspected that it would have something in it about Jesus.

“Sure. You can read it. It’s yours,” my father said, already distracted with finding my sisters, gathering us together, getting us to the car, moving on to the next thing.

In the next months I made my way laboriously through my Bible’s pages, beginning with the first page, which had a pasted-in label of the church’s name, and then my name, given on June 14, 1970, in neat type.

The next page began with the “Family Registry,” lines I left empty for the next five years, sensing that I should not ask about the “Wife,” or when she was “Born” and when the “Husband” and the “Wife” had been “Married.”  My mother was gone, as though she had never been. It was as though we had always been a family of one father and three daughters.

I left “Births” empty as well, and “Marriages,” on the next page. (Finally, in 1975, when Peter, my father’s youngest brother, and the love of my life, died at the age of twenty-one, I asked about the names I should put on the other pages. This was because the last page of the “Family Registry” was “Deaths.”  Peter’s death broke through the barrier of silence I had surrounded my pain with. His name, in the fresh grief of death opened, just by a crack, the way for my father and me to speak, if only in a few sentences of dry information, of our own older pain.)

I gave each page its due, continuing through the frontispiece to the title page, “The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version.”  Every word was precious, and solemnly read. My Bible had been translated from the “original tongues,” as old as 1611, and contained revisions from 1881-1885 and 1901 until this version in my hands, which had been “compared with the most ancient authorities” and finally revised in 1952. “You are eighteen years old” I whispered to my Bible, doing the math.

I made my way through the preface, discovering that the King James Version had “grave defects” which this Bible had corrected. What a relief! As I kept my dictionary beside me to look up the words I couldn’t decipher, I discovered that many men had labored years over the “ancient texts,” translating with much prayer and collaboration from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages.

They were so thorough that they went to other kinds of ancient versions, like the “Masoretic Text,” works in Syriac and Latin. I was fascinated with the incredible care and meticulous attention this book was given. In the summary I read, “The Bible is more than a historical document to be preserved. And it is more than a classic of English literature to be cherished and admired. It is a record of God’s dealings with men, of God’s revelation of Himself and His will.”

The summary continued about a mysterious word. “God’s Word.” I wondered what word that might be. What would God’s word sound like? Would it be in Hebrew? Was there an even older language? What meaning would The Word have? Was it like a spell? Would it be magic? In fairy tales, the names of things, in the most ancient language, carried great power.

I wondered how I would know that I had found God’s Word. It was somewhere in this book.

I read with amazement, and an increasing sense of anticipation, this word – whatever word it was –  had become “flesh.”  Immediately I pictured one of my father’s t-bone steaks, glistening redly on his plate. It was no wonder, I thought, that Sunday school stories were rewritten for children. This stuff was far too lurid for ordinary little girls. But I had been trusted with it. I had been entrusted with this book, and I was even more determined to read it.

I worked it out with my dictionary, and my knowledge from other sayings. According to my Bible’s preface, this “flesh” had evidently “dwelt” among men. “Live” that’s what “dwell” is. “Dwelling” is a house. “Flesh and blood” meant family, I’d heard that before. This Word had become like family, I guessed, and got a house among some men. A very powerful magic was at work, of this I was convinced.

The next page listed all the books inside my Bible. This was a new concept to me. I was familiar with chapters. But the heading clearly indicated that these were all actual books contained within the two black nubbly covers of my one book, the Holy Bible. There were two lists, an Old Testament and a New Testament. I tasted the word “testament,” enjoying its sound and flavor. I wondered how they could tell the difference between the old one and the new one.

There were more lists, all the books in alphabetical order, what a gem! There are no books that start with “B,” how unusual, I thought. “F” was missing, as were “Q,” “U,” “V” and “W,” but I was gratified to see “Z” was well represented.

Then came the subject lists. There was law, here, and history. There were poetical books, “major” prophets, and “minor” ones (I reassured the minor prophets that I respected them just as much. It was my way to help the small and overlooked feel protected and loved).

Then came the gospels and ho! What was this?! The early church! Apparently “Paul” was given much space, as there were a great many letters of his which had been added. “Other letters” came after Paul’s and finally, one prophetic book. I checked back to the major prophets, and the minor prophets, and puzzled over this strange subject heading. One prophetic book at the end of the Bible. Oh yes! It was in the “new” testament. This section was bookended, front and back, with some helpful hints on “abbreviations” and the “reference system.”

The next translucent page, with a satisfying crinkle, announced that we had come to the Old Testament. I paused and gave the moment its due.

(Next, “In the Beginning…”)

[Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons]

“The word of the Lord came to me”

“The word of the Lord came to me”

Ezekiel 21:1

In one particular church, The Huguenot Memorial Church of Pelham, New York, I somehow – quite by accident, and unbeknownst to me – managed to attend the Sunday school class consistently for a full year. I discovered this on a confusing morning when all the Sunday school classes were assembled together for a special program. Children were summoned to the front of the room, made to climb the stairs up to the dais, and a man in a dark suit would say their name and announce their accomplishment.

As I sat in the back of the room, I didn’t pay much attention to their accomplishments. These were not my people, not my customs. But I enjoyed observing the unusual proceedings, studying all the different kinds of dresses and shoes, the fascinating hairstyles on the girls (complete with barrettes, ribbons, ponies and braids, headbands and curls), and the pristine shininess of the boys’ hair.

The sound of my own name being announced suddenly jarred me from my reverie. I heard my first name called out, then the usual pause…and struggle with my last name. Glancing down at my own clothes I was relieved that I had chosen my cleaner dress, that I had licked my shoes earlier in the morning and rubbed off the scuff marks, that my socks were clean and white. I had taken my weekly bath the night before, washed and curled my hair, applying generous amounts of Dippity Do to my foam curlers. Plenty of Hairnet hair spray the next morning helped me to achieve what, to me, looked like a perfect brown square roll of hair all around the base of my neck, and an even fringe of bangs set perfectly flat across my forehead.

Slowly I slipped from my folding chair and made my way forward, up the center aisle of seated children. What had I done? Why had I been noticed?

Apparently, I was now graduating! I had successfully completed the third grade and was heading into the fourth. For this momentous achievement, I was being given a Bible. Yes! I was breathless with astonishment as I looked at its black faux leather cover and gilt pages, held almost casually in the man’s hand.

“Go ahead, it’s yours,” he whispered to me. Cautiously, I lifted both hands to receive this stupendous gift. Certainly never would I have ever imagined people would give books away. Books were treasures, kept in libraries, lent out under great care, examined closely upon return for any mark or damage.

Even more outlandish, this book was a Bible. I had no idea Bibles were so plentiful that they could be given away for free to little girls who were only tangentially involved with a church. The only Bibles I had seen were those nave dwellers, those large, ponderous books, resting heavily in ornate cradles of carved wood, or scrolled brass; the ones Reverends, costumed in robes and embroidered scarves, would read from, slowly, in a special sing-song style, from the stage.

I had surmised that Bibles were, in fact, so rare and so incomprehensible, they were never referred to in our Sunday school classes. Our stories came in colorful workbooks, regardless of the church we attended. These stories had been rewritten for children to understand. There seemed to be no continuity to these lessons, they were stand-alone stories, lifted out of the great complexity of the Bible, the few understandable pieces children were allowed to learn. I could hardly believe that I, completely by accident, completely unknowingly, had somehow done something that warranted being trusted with this magnificent gift.

Throughout the rest of the morning I stroked its nubbly black cover, gently passed my fingers over the words on its pages, touching the words as the Jewish men did in synagogue. I marveled at the translucent papers, wondering if this was holy paper, reserved specially for holy words. I breathed in its dusty, inky scent. I brushed my fingers across the whole of the gilt-edged pages, following the contour of its corners, glowing and lustrous.

(This is the story of how God’s words came to me…next, what I began to read)

[Huguenot Cross, also called Pentcost cross – created by the jeweler Gilbert Albert – commemorating the 450th anniversary of Reformation in Geneva. Cathedral St-Peter, Geneva.]

Loving God, Loving God’s words

I delight in your commands because I love them.
I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:45-48

A singer’s bread and butter are the church jobs. My dad sang at temple on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and he sang at church on Sunday mornings. We were Jews, Huguenots, Catholics, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Christian Scientists, Universalists, Presbyterians … it just depended on who had the paycheck ready. Since my father was raising us single-handedly, we always went with him on Sundays, and sometimes I would go with him on Friday nights, too.

I loved synagogue. The men would on a rare occasion allow me to sit with them, a little Gentile, and listen as they chanted and prayed the words of scripture. Like a great wave of prayer all around me, dark heads covered in white shawls would sway over the pages of Torah, fingers lovingly touching each word as it was prayed aloud. Bass and baritone, their voices would rise and fall in plaintive fashion, as I listened. Their love for God was deep, palpable, a living thing. Some would raise their hands and faces to the Almighty, eyes closed, others would sweep and whisper soft words of worship, many with tears streaming down their faces.

Then my father would sing above them, sing a line from a psalm, and the men would respond, singing the second line, my father the third, and they again returning. “Hallelu yah,” praise YHWH.

My church experience was an entirely different matter. My father would deposit my sisters and me at the appropriate classrooms for our age groups, then continue to his rehearsal room. Sometimes I would stay in the classroom, other times I would slip away, unnoticed, to visit the library, and sometimes I would sit in the service, depending on how well I plotted my escape.

If worship in the synagogue centered around worship of God with a sense of hushed awe, and passionate love for God’s very words on the linen scrolls of Torah, then worship in church was first and foremost about pageantry. The stage was resplendent in candles, luxurious colors of red, gold leaf, brilliant blues and greens, especially in the magnificent stained glass windows. The choir director and his choir in their rich robes, the Reverends arrayed in their liturgical vestments, the acolytes in flowing white, with their high, arched brass tapers.

The most interesting part of a Sunday service for me was the processional, with all the accoutrements and costumery of grand opera. There my father would be, singing in his beautiful tenor, and all the choir, singing riotous glorious music in their promenade up the aisle.

The Bible, I knew, was the gorgeous, heavy book sitting on its intricately carved stand in the middle of the altar. On occasion the Reverend would solemnly move to the altar to recite a few words from its open pages. There it would lay, still and lovely, like Snow White lying in her lace and flower-strewn, glass- covered coffin.

All around me the people would sing from their hymnals, and say words they had learned by heart. The Reverends would intone in a chanting voice, a sort of hypnotic spell called ‘liturgy.’  It was like one gigantic play, and we were all in it. When it was over, and the last acolyte had walked down the aisle, the candles snuffed, the choir pews emptied, then the people would rustle about, gather their coats and purses, their hats and gloves, and murmur to each other as they waited to shake the Reverends’ hands.

Up front, in the now empty alcove, the Bible would lie, alone, like an artifact in a museum. I wondered if anyone had ever caressed its pages, or wept over its contents. Had anyone drunk in its words with rapturous love as they did in the synagogue?

(This is the tale of how I came to read the Bible…next post completes the story)

Tel Megiddo

Tel Megiddo

And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Harmagedon.

Revelation 16:16

Megiddo, in a sense, represents the first and the last in the Bible. It’s one of the first cities Joshua and the tribes encountered in Canaan, and according to the apostle John, Megiddo will also mark the world’s final war. Destroyed at least 25 times over the past four or five thousand years, Megiddo also represents both the resilient and power-hungry nature of humankind.

Clear back in Genesis, both of these human qualities became descriptive of Adam and Eve, as they left the cradle of Eden and entered the savage, unchartered world that lay ahead. It fascinates me, their story, and especially Eve’s story, her longing and suppression, how her experiences shaped her, how the men in her life affected her, and how her relationship with God evolved.

Eve’s story is like the source story, the metanarrative, of my own life story, and maybe of all women’s stories, in some way. All of us have yearned to love and be loved, to be forgiven, to be freed from our past, to be empowered partners, recognized for our character, creativity, strengths, skills, and proclivities. And we have all experienced, in some way, rejection, limitations, unfair expectations, burdened by obligations we didn’t choose, blanket guilt we didn’t earn, blame and shame.

It’s not that men haven’t experienced all those things, too; it’s just I’ve never been a man, that’s not been my journey, though for most of my life I can honestly say I’ve felt robbed not having that coveted “Y” gene. It’s only been recently that I’ve finally embraced the goodness of being a woman, as I slowly grew to understand Eve’s story, and to recognize how much God honors and loves women, how the Lord has accomplished heroic triumphs, and truly breathtaking achievements through women, and has always intended Eve to be as mighty and valiant as Adam. In her own way, as a woman.

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

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