Once upon a time – in the time before time began, a large ball of energy – a seething mass of grumblings and groanings, of flashes and fire, of bumblings and bouncings, floated here and there. Then one day – in that time before time began – it exploded with a tremendous bang and bits and pieces of energy flew far and wide – continuing to this day. The Universe was born!
Many, many, many years later than that time before time began, a group of scholars – probably all men – probably all elderly men, gathered to reflect on the world they knew – their aim, to write about its beginnings. This a really impossible task so they decided to tell it as a story.
It began – “In the beginning …” and went on to tell of the way God went to work to create the world. It was a story of great acts by God out of which the world was assembled. They write “God said let there be this, and let that occur…” and they added, “and it was so” as each action was completed. The picture that may be imagined is of a powerful – remote – God sitting some distance away and creating by decree. It all happened, wrote the scholars, and the earth became a finished article. (Genesis 1&2).
But then the story changes and the God of decrees becomes a worker of dust. (Genesis 2:7) “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” I wonder if you have ever tried to form anything from dust – it is an impossible task- the dust remains a pile of dust.
The story persists – and God persists, and the human form takes shape – but without life. And then God draws even closer and “breathes into the man’s nostrils.” Perhaps you have never breathed in anyone’s nostrils, but if you ever decided to do that – how close would you need to be? Very close!
One might imagine hearing God say as breath was breathed, “The life of God for the life of humankind.” And the man lived!
The man received a gift of life – a gift handed to him in the action of the God whose spirit had a major part in creation. The breath, we may claim, contained something of the breather, and imagination can show us that something, as the presence of God – not from a distance but in intimate contact.
We know and understand that our breathing is an absolute necessity for the preservation of life. If we stop breathing, we stop living. The breath contains the elements necessary to energize the activities of our body.
The imaginings in right brain thinking, remind us that with breath comes the presence, or spirit of God, in whom life is enriched. As we cannot survive without breathing, so also, we cannot not receive the Spirit. They are fundamentally linked as foundational for life, the gift that knows no boundaries. There is more!
If we now take something of a giant step forward in time, we will discover Moses talking to a bush. (Exodus Chap.3 But this was no ordinary bush. Moses was soon to discover that this bush and its surround were emblematic of sacred presence. Even the ground on which he stood was sacred.
From the bush a voice called Moses to return to Egypt, there to challenge Pharoah to let the Israelites go free. This was a daunting task and Moses was loath to take it on. The challenge continued, so Moses asked for some identification. It would be useful to know who or what it was that was speaking to him. “Give me your name…”
What he received was not a name but an enigmatic statement of being. I AM! Then for further affirmation a reminder of an ongoing presence from the God of their ancestors. Transliterated in English as YHWH the term is unpronounceable but most expressive as a doorway to understanding presence. Finding security in this presence Moses took on the task and confronted Pharoah. Pharoah had to learn to his considerable cost, that this presence was not going away, and finally set the people free.
My name for this presence is YHWH-Spirit. It makes sense for me when linked to the story of beginnings and humankind’s gift of life. YHWH-Spirit fed and led the Israelites away from slavery into a desert, there to wander for some time. Visible as smoke in the day and fire in the night YHWH-Spirit guarded and guided the Israelites as they continued their journey home – to the place originally promised to Abraham. As they travelled, they had to learn again the true nature of the covenant to which their ancestors had committed their lives in the gift of the life given.
The life that each has is what it is. The profile of life is the same for all and is not affected by shape or colour or creed or behaviour. So, how do we account for the range of difference among the many lives being lived?
If I decide to present you with a gift (for whatever reason), and carefully wrap it securely in attractive paper, you may be very pleased and even find the wrapping expressive of my feelings in giving it to you. But you will know nothing of its contents until you remove the covering.
If life is to take on meaning and find expression in your daily peregrinations, it must like any gift, be unwrapped. Unwrapping life does not, and indeed cannot occur in a moment. Life is always continuing and expanding. This changing condition of life requires a progressive unwrapping – always more is revealed.
There is, however, abundant evidence to suggest that the unwrapping is not proceeding well and, in many cases, not at all. I wonder if many are fearful of what they might find.
Failure to unwrap, it might be suggested, leaves the gift languishing on the table; we pass by daily.
Rev Walter Stratford 28th August 2021