I know I have vowed to utilize Bible stories in our Vespers and so I am sort of forcing you to explore a book you might not be so fond of. But like so much of these pandemic practices, it’s good for you.
So I don’t know if you were aware that there are two different accounts of the creation story and they appear back to back in chapter one and two of Genesis. They don’t exactly tell the same story. They don’t even have the same order. The creation story we often hear and maybe tell is actually a hybrid of the two. So let’s start there.
Chapter one I am going to be honest is by far my favorite and you’ll understand why as we dig in. It is mostly orderly and it is where we get our day by day account of the first seven days. Even tho there were no calendars. Day one is earth and light. Day two is sky. Or a “dome” because we were still in the flat earth phase of understanding. Day three the land separates from the water and plants appear on the land. Day four we go back to light and get different lights for day and night. I guess day one was a temporary flashlight to get the early work done. Day 5 we get birds and fish. Day 6 is really busy because we get animals and humans. Male and female, in our image and likeness we made them. OK, no real duality because it is all at once and just accommodates biology.
It is in chapter one we get the language that humans were given dominion over everything. “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Now we might get a clue that “subdue” could be problematic. Although God goes on to say everybody gets to eat plants and gardeners know you have to subdue the weeds. But the other animals were already cheating and eating each other so that directive about eating plants went out the window and humans took the liberty to interprete whatever word was used to mean dominate. More about language in a minute. God was tired and rested on day 7. Let’s look at Chapter 2.
This is a hodge podge and there are no day markers for how things unfolded. We start out with land without water and then there is one stream and 4 branches. First-very first attempt at creating anything, God makes a man. What does our first effort at anything usually look like? Those who are listening to the Brene Brown podcasts might want to re-listen to FFT’s about first times. Then God makes plants and puts man in the Garden to till it. Then God gets the idea for some helpers for man and makes Birds and Animals. Man gets to name them all. I have no idea where fish came from in Chapter 2. Apparently God did NOT make dogs, or horses because there is nothing suitable as a helpmate for poor man. So taking a rib from the anesthetized man, God makes woman. Who is given to man and named by man. Does this sound at all Patriarchal? And maybe a little chauvinistic. Hence my preference for chapter 1.
Dominion comes from medieval Latin, dominus or lord and domus or house. Authority to rule a territory. Clearly this is not the word that would have been originally used so we aren’t sure what the ancient text might have said. One of the challenges in bible study is the translation and interpretation that continues to take place when we seek to utilize the original documents. Clearly, comparing the first two chapters, the bible does not have just one author. Or one approach. Think of ancient rulers. Some were benevolent and took their authority as a vow of stewardship. Others, bent the concept towards “Dominant” which arises from the same Latin root but takes on a feel of control in which someone “treats others as if you are their master”. Even the word master is highly charged having transitioned from medieval kingdoms to the more modern slavery of the United States.
Other creation stories have a more equitable relationship among the creatures and more of the “care for one another” concept of stewardship. Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world's environmental problems, was celebrated in the United States for the first time on April 22, 1970.
Often tied to the publication in 1962 of a book, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson about the environmental damage of pesticides, it was always a grass roots effort arising from passionate people. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of this awareness campaign. And in an ironic twist, the first year Mother Earth seems to be winning the battle for survival. Eco-systems try to right themselves—try to return to balance when disturbed. Humans have long been an irritant to the living organism of planet earth. It is as if the earth found a way at last to still the destructive clamor of humanity. Even on a temporary basis the effects are evident. The air is clearing. Streams are clearing. It is too soon to tell lasting effects. How long it would take to reverse climate change.
I found this in an NPR article from March of this year about the Australian wild fires. “This cycle of fire, rain and recovery has played out in Australia for millennia. The majority of the country's forests are uniquely adapted to fire. Some species need it. ‘Australia is, more than any other, a fire continent,’ writes ecologist and historian Stephen Pyne in his book World Fire. But scientists have long warned that a warming climate could mean more severe fires, more often. Now there are concerns that even a fire continent will struggle to recover from the scale and severity of recent events. New research published in the journal Nature Climate Change found that a staggering 21 percent of Australia's forested area burned in the 2019-2020 fire season, a figure the authors say is ‘globally unprecedented’ and may indicate ‘the more flammable future projected to eventuate under climate change has arrived earlier than anticipated.’ The question now is whether Australia's nature can keep pace.”
This year I invite us into a gentler interpretation of Genesis 1. An interpretation that clearly says we are stewards of all that we survey. No greater or lesser but with a responsibility born of our unique gifts which can heal or destroy an entire planet. Our gifts and our stewardship came before there was a concept of good and evil—before any fruit was eaten.
That doesn’t happen until chapter 3. What would we do differently if we could stop believing in the “master” myth of dominance and invested ourselves in the oneness of being the keeper of our kin? What if we understood our kin to have feathers and fins and fur and scales and to be the wind and the water and mountain and the tree? How could we use our gifts differently if we understood our role in kinship rather than dominance? And what will be the consequences of not considering our alternatives? Where this path leads does not seem to be sustaining and perhaps has prompted the earth to put us in time out to think about the consequences of our actions. If Divine Mind is everywhere present, is it not thinkable that the organism we call Earth could create what it needs for survival? It’s an odd thought perhaps but there it is. I would love for there to be a 100th Anniversary of Earth Day in which people look back at history for information on why Earth Day was needed. Let us hold a new vision for the happiness of Mother Earth.