I had my autobiography published this year. ‘The Amazingly Astonishing Story’ is a (sometimes) funny and sometimes chaotic account of a cradle-Catholic’s disrupted and strange childhood. An elderly woman in my church is reading it (sorry about the ripe language, my chum!) and this afternoon she braved a real hoolie, horizontal rain and a cold howling wind, to visit me with flowers, walking up the village street with the aid of her stick, half crippled as she is, simply because she wanted to say that the book has moved her. By the time she reached my door she was soaked. I moved her? It’s a long time since I have been so touched by someone’s kindness in a world where it can sometimes seem that no one gives a damn. She doesn’t read this blog, she’s not into computers and screens, but I’m thanking her anyway.
For a couple of years I’ve been fascinated by the first two chapters of Genesis and I’ve read them probably once or twice a week, and then – almost inevitably – I’ve turned to the first chapter of John’s gospel. The accounts of creation. Why aren’t we all dizzied by the very fact of our own existence? Why, or maybe how, do we take our life for granted? Creation! That’s the truly amazingly astonishing story. And I’m on a hiding to nothing trying to write down my jumbled thoughts but here I go, because when something is this wonderful and amazing, you just have to give it voice:
‘In the beginning God created’
Before time. Before space. Before existence. There was God. ‘In the beginning God…’
You and I cannot comprehend ‘no space, no time, no existence’. The beginning. We live in space and time. We know only existence. We can’t even explain it by saying ‘There was nothing’ because that very concept suggests the absence of something. There was no ‘nothing’. There was no ‘was’. There was no ‘there’. No present or past or future. Only God.
Before time and space and existence, God created. And in the act of creation time was. Existence was. And then plants and animals were. And everything, every atom and molecule of his great creation is fleeting. It dies and is replaced, dies and sustains other life, even rock crumbles and forms a new strata, even lava, even the atomic nucleus decays, everything passes. And everything is beautiful. Everything created has its own beauty, its own miracle of being. And everything, when we pause to really look and think and ponder, points us to a creator.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Maybe that’s why I love the beach so much, and the sky, because that’s where the world grabs me by the throat and shouts “Look! Look what God has made!” Maybe that’s why, yesterday, I had to stop the car to take this picture;
Sometimes we struggle to recognise the miracle of creation but we miss so much when we take life for granted. A few years ago my friend Jane died of bowel cancer. I remember sitting in her garden, when the disease was in its final stages, talking about the human body as a sort of plumbing system. That’s what we are – plumbing systems with intelligence and appreciation of our environment, with emotions and loyalty and humour and the capacity for great selflessness alongside our capacity for massive selfishness and cruelty. Plumbing systems with brains. iPlumbing you might say. Jane thumped me for saying it, and then hooted with laughter and appreciation. God made everything to be transient. God made everything to die, to rot or crumble or melt. And in the rotting and crumbling, there is such beauty. In the rot and the decay there is transformation. Life is transformation.
Every breath we take is a process of transformation, oxygen in, carbon dioxide out…. every step we take burns sugar and transforms salt, processes potassium, uses water… and all these things are recycled. God was the first recycler.
In the act of creation, God made the world temporary and dying and yet wonderfully and miraculously whole and regenerating.
Isn’t that amazingly astonishing? I never want to lose that wonder, that amazement. I know that it’s a gift of God so I’m guarding it jealously!
And listen, that’s the final huge amazing wonder of it all – that every good thing comes from God, even our love for him. It’s his gift to us. Another gift to us. His love is unending, limitless, his gifts come every moment of our lives. The God who created life and death and regeneration has been one of us, has experienced everything from birth to death through childhood and adolescence. He knew companionship, eating, drinking, walking and talking and laughter. And he knew cruelty and pain, loss and grief, torture and abuse. Why? Because of his great love. Because of his driving desire to be with us. In us. In the beginning…. before space and time and life…. God knew all about today, knew you and me, and loved us. And loves us still.
That’s the truly truly amazingly astonishing story. And it’s his, not mine. All his. But I’m hitching a ride on his coat tails.