In the beginning God created.
In the beginning, a beleaguered band of Israelites were carried off from the land they loved by a tyrant. They gathered by the rivers of Babylon, in the middle of nowhere. They asked themselves hard questions: how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? We thought our land was our identity. Who are we apart from our land? The answer they came up with was to tell a story that was bigger than the land.
The story starts like this: In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. Those Israelites sitting around the campfire in Babylon six hundred years before the birth of Jesus found their identity and their meaning in a loving, generous God who created the world in an orderly fashion, step by step, day by day. They could have chosen any of a number of creation myths floating around, but this story was the one that helped make sense of who they were and what had happened to them.
In the beginning, my great-grandfather on my father’s side was a rabbi named Jacob, who lived in a small village in Latvia. He had two daughters; one of them was my grandmother. As a young child, she believed that she would be struck dead if she did certain things after sundown on a Friday, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. She was very afraid, and very careful. Then one day, the inevitable happened. She was out after dark doing something she shouldn’t be doing. God did not strike her dead, and so she decided there was no God. Later she regained a very different faith in something—she could never put her finger on it—but when I was a little girl I grew up hearing this story and hearing her say she didn’t believe in God for a long time but became convinced that something was in charge, and it was something good.
In the beginning, my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, who was a landscape painter, was riding his horse along the seashore about 35 miles north of Boston. He saw a dramatic rocky ledge jutting out over the sea and thought: I want to paint that shoreline. I wonder whose land that is. He fell in love with the land and the ocean view. Then he found a daughter of the landowner to marry. He knew God through the beauty of creation, and he told his story through painting upon painting of the ocean, and also through paintings of his wife and their five lovely daughters. His middle daughter grew up to be my grandmother. If I ever asked her about God, she’d sing, slightly off-key, “for the beauty of the earth….”
In the beginning, my own spiritual life was formless and void. I stumbled into church in my early twenties without a clue what I was looking for, but I knew I was looking for something. The church I went to was a huge, crumbling, drafty old building in Boston, a beautiful place with big marble statues behind the altar and music to die for. For the first year or so, all I did in church was cry. It was all very powerful and mysterious to me, even my own tears. My own nightmare mysteriously became the beginning of the journey that brought me here.
When I go back and look at the “in the beginning” stories that have formed me, I find God’s fullness active in every one of them, not just God, but a three-person God. When I look at my crazy family, agnostic to the core on both sides, in them I see a generous creative force, a mysterious spirit, and behaviors that were clearly patterned after God’s likeness, even if none of them would’ve named God’s likeness Jesus.
In the beginning, a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. God’s wind, God’s Spirit, God’s life-force, whatever we call it, is present in creation, is part of creation, and part of us.
In the beginning, our first-person-plural God said: Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. God does not say: “I’ll make humans to look just like me,” God says, according to our likeness. Jesus is God’s likeness, God whom we can see. Jesus is the likeness after which God patterns humankind. The Gospels are instructions on how to pattern ourselves after Jesus.
For me, the Holy Trinity is not about doctrine, it’s about God with us from the beginning of creation and in all of our beginnings.
The amazing thing is that we affirm and celebrate the fullness of God week after week when we recite the Nicene Creed, that text people either love, or love to hate. The Nicene Creed is another “in the beginning” story.
In the beginning, God was present as he had been and shall be eternally. God’s Son came into the world as one of us, died, rose again, turned the world upside down, and sent the Holy Spirit to keep us together.
What is your creation story? What happens when you go back to the beginning? Where in your own story do you find the Creator, the Spirit, and the likeness of God who calls us to follow him?