Here is my rendering of the opening scene of our scriptures: In the beginning God made everything: what could be seen (the earth) and what could not be seen (the heavens). And the earth was a chaotic mass of confusion. It was empty, filled with nothing. But the Spirit of God was right there, contemplating what ought to be formed, preparing to bring everything to life. And then God said, “let there be light!”
This is the creation story of course, but it is also a picture of who we are. There is a part of us that shows, and there is part of us that doesn’t show, the bigger part of us. Like one of those buildings where you enter and say “it seems bigger on the inside”, there is more to our interiors than our exteriors, more that belongs to our hearts than to our visible life. One could say that in the same way that heaven defines earth, our interiors define our visible life.
God looks on the human heart and sees a potential vastness, a potential greatness. He made us to be filled with himself, after all. But so much of our interior world is unformed and unfilled.
We know what interior chaos is: when we are ruled by the most recent event, or the last thing said to us. When our thoughts are ruled by fear instead of love. And we know what it means to be empty and incomplete. Yes, we are living, or we are trying to make a living, but what is life? It comes to us in a moment of joy, but then it dashes away, and we hardly know what it is we are chasing.
The need is to be re-created, ordered and filled in that hidden part of who we are. Thomas Merton described our souls as crow-like, gathering all kinds of things, almost everything we can find, but not all of it worthy to collect. Our souls become hoarders of things, but surprisingly empty. We ignore the disquiet of our hearts by practicing a noisy and distracted life.
I am leaving tomorrow to visit a monastery in New Mexico for a few days. I find monasteries wonderful but challenging places. While there is a sense of peace (of course), I also find that the chaos and emptiness of my heart becomes very real when I slow down long enough to pay attention. Last year I spent a week in the silence and I was somewhat surprised by the disquiet I experienced. But the Spirit of God attends to us when we cooperate with him. He orders the chaos, fills the emptiness, and brings us back to life. I came back deeply renewed.
I think it would be wise to make the creation story more personal. David did; he prayed “create in me a clean heart” (Psalm 51:10). Creation is the perfect term for what David was asking for because God makes something out of nothing. No matter what the state of your heart might be, God can create in you a peaceful heart, a satisfied heart, a heart at rest, a heart full of joy.
We realize that the original creation story is deepening and changing: God orders and fills the hidden and personal, rather than the visible and material; and we are made active participants in this, not passive or without choice.
Worship is the way we cooperate in what God is doing in us. It is through this simple but life-shaping exercise where our hearts are formed and filled. We may or may not realize what it is we are really doing when we worship, but something happens to our hearts as we pay attention to God. Something re-creative takes place, something that is both thoughtful and deeper than our thinking. Our hearts are brought into order, our hearts are filled with the life and light that is God.
So here is how we could read these opening words of our Scripture. Here is Genesis 1:1-3a, remixed in personal terms:
When God made you, he made a part that can be seen (your visible bodily life) and a part that is unseen (the vast interior that is your heart). You already know that your inside life is subject to chaos and emptiness. Ignoring that side of you won’t help you become you. No, you are meant to be ordered by God, and filled with God. You are called to cooperative re-creation, to worship. Here is how it happens: as you worship, you become aware that the Spirit of God is with you, forming you, filling you. New creation is happening, something God does entirely, but something you must participate in. If you open your heart, you will hear God say, “I am now turning on the light so you can see what is going on”.
We conclude our series this Sunday: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Colossians that the Suburban Dream. Come and worship.