With the Eyes of Faith

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While these opening verses of Genesis come first in the Bible, they were written much later than many of the biblical narratives which follow. They were written during a terrible season of violence and oppression-the Babylonian exile. Israel was a defeated nation, uprooted from their homeland, refugees shackled together, led across the desert into captivity. They were a people oppressed by political, national and economic systems, and the Babylonian gods seemed to be in control. In Babylon, which means-geographically, of course-just east of the Euphrates River, south of Baghdad, in the very heart of war-torn Iraq-there the people of God asked way back then: "Where on earth is our God?" Into the resounding chaos of their displacement and exile-the proclamation of Genesis One was sung.

These were not words intended to give scientific explanation for the beginning of the universe; these were not words intended to document the historical account of beginnings. Rather, this is a call to worship for an exiled and oppressed people whose lives have been filled with real terror, yet whose eyes of faith enabled them to see- from the beginning-God. To a world spinning in chaos, Genesis One is a bold, brave affirmation of faith that God is the Creator of the stars and the sky, the earth and all that is in it, that God is bound together with the human creature in a beautiful, life-giving way, and it is very good.

There is one very important thing that the people who went to the moon brought back with them. It is the beautiful picture of the whole earth from a distance. After his historic first step, Neil Armstrong remembered that he couldn't sleep. He said that in the confines of the lunar lander cabin, the Earth stared at him through the window like a big blue eyeball. With a silver chalice and a vile of wine the size of a fingertip, Buzz Aldrin held silent communion on the moon. Michael Collins orbited the moon while the others walked. Many years later, he reflected: "I think the impressions I get are first of the Earth, that it is a very small and very fragile planet, and should be treated as such, a very delicate object." James Irwin, a later moonwalker, seems to have had a most profound of religious experiences. He said he felt as Adam and Eve must have felt as they were standing on the earth and they realized they were not alone.

We are not alone on this great blue, fragile planet swarming with life. Created in the image of God, on the sixth day, we human creatures are the climax and culmination! And we have a job to do! "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." We are entrusted by God to be creative caretakers of all this goodness.

The problem is, unlike the perspective from the distance of standing on the moon, we see the Earth up close, and we are deeply troubled by what we see. We see too much bloodshed. We see too many bellies swollen from hunger. Too many bombs exploding, too many guns firing, too many young human images of God falling in war zones around the globe and in our own community. The world is fragile, beautiful, delicate, like a big eyeball. God has created us to be stewards of goodness. It seems we've got to do something about what we see.

No one says it better than William Sloane Coffin when he says: "If you believe, as many believers do, in a politically engaged spirituality, and you're trying to save the environment; if you are persuaded that economic crimes can cause damage as extensive as the crimes of violence so endemic in our world today; and if you're an American trying to temper patriotic fervor with a healthy dose of national humility, you're bound at times to feel like quitting. But if Jesus never allowed his soul to be cornered into despair, and if it was to those furthest from the seats of power that he said, 'You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world'-who then are we to quit 'fighting the good fight of faith'"? (1)

People of faith, we have a job to do, and on the very first day of creation God gave us what we need to do it. Have you ever noticed that, according to this creation story in Genesis, God created light on the first day, but God did not create the sun and the moon and the stars until the fourth day? What kind of light was it then-at the very, very beginning-when God said, "Let there be light," three whole days before the great lights were spun into their orbits?

From the very first day, I believe, God had in mind a world which would be infused with a special kind of light, a light which came into being simply because God spoke it into being, a light not dependent upon sun, or moon, or stars, a light whose job it is simply to separate from darkness. A light by which we human creatures would learn to see the goodness, the blessed order of things, and most importantly the image of God in every child of God. This special light, the light of the first day of creation, can help us see what needs to be done as we go about our business as stewards of God's creation.

Barbara Kingsolver opens her collection of essays, Small Wonder, with an incredible story. In The Boston Globe October 2, 2001, less than a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center, this little story appeared entitled "Iranian toddler found safe in bear's den after three days."

"A mother bear appears to have cared for a missing 16-month-old Iranian toddler who was found safe and sound three days later in the animal's den, a local Iranian newspaper reported. The child's parents, from a nomadic tribe in western Lorestan province, returned to their tent after working in the fields to find him missing. Three days later, a search party found the toddler, who it said had probably been breast-fed by a mother bear, in a den about six miles from their nomadic settlement. A medical examination showed the toddler was in good health," the daily said.

"What does it mean?" Kingsolver asks. "How is it possible that a huge, hungry bear would take a pitifully small, delicate human child to her breast rather than rip him into food? You could read this story and declare 'impossible,' even though many witnesses have sworn it's true. Or you could read this story and think of how warm lives are drawn to one another in cold places, think of the unconquerable force of a mother's love, the fact of the DNA code that we share in its great majority with other mammals -you could think of all that and say, 'Of course the bear nursed the baby.' He was crying from hunger, she had milk. Small wonder." (2)

Kingsolver says this story must come from "some gentler universe than this one," and so it might appear, except when seen through the eyes of faith. The eyes of faith see by the light of the first day of creation. The light that simply separates from darkness, the light that God spoke into being as the very beginning of goodness for all creation-bear and child alike.

I know that for us who long for and work toward a gentler universe, it often seems like death is running far more fleet than we, in our attempts to work for justice, to feed the hungry, to make peace, and to be responsible stewards of God's creation. But just remember, on the first day of creation, before the sun and the moon and the stars, before the bear and the child were born, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. An unspecified light by which the eyes of faith would come to see the goodness of God everywhere, and the image of God-in every child of God. The kind of light which is within us enabling us to be-in the words of Jesus-the light of the world. It was good, that first day's light. It is very, very good.

Let us pray. God of earth and stars, we give you thanks that from a heavenly perspective, you drew land up out of roaring sea foam and designed it lush green and fertile brown against the backdrop of blue. You populated the water and air and earth with living creatures at whose sight we take great delight. In the great, vast creation of life, the lily of the field spins in royal splendor, and the power of the Gospel truth is packed inside a tiny mustard seed. For every deed great and small, we give you thanks for the beauty of your divine artistry. We are grateful that you can see the earth from afar, but, nonetheless, choose to be so close to us as to know our names and our innermost needs, that you can see made in God's image engraved in every human heart. We remember with thanksgiving that in a time of exile and displacements, you inspired a word that brings order to chaos and reminds the faithful that you are the author of creation and you so love the world. Lead us, O God, in the ways of Jesus, to be good stewards of this good earth, so that love for enemy is second nature and love for neighbor comes easy. Illumine our paths with your special kind of light that we may see what is to be done and do it. Amen.


1) William Sloane Coffin, Credo, p. 114.
2) Barbara Kingsolver, Small Wonder, p. 4.

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