Breath of Life

With the Narrative Lectionary this fall, we are starting back at the beginning of the Biblical story with a creation story. There are two creation stories in Genesis and this reflection is based on part of the 2nd story.

What we need to remember about the creation stories (and many other Bible stories) is that they are true even if they are not fact. It is true that God created. It is true that humans are part of that creation. It is true that there is sin (brokenness, pain, suffering) in the world.

Most scholars agree that the creation stories were written thousands of years after creation actually happened. They were written after slavery in Egypt, after wandering in the wilderness, after the Hebrew people had conquered surrounding lands, after king David, after the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles. After all this happened the people started asking questions and telling stories about the beginning of their relationship with this God who had led them through all these ups and downs. The stories of creation evolved into what we have today.

In this second story, we hear how God created an earth creature. This is the first act of creation in this story. The word translated as earth being comes from the Hebrew adama which means soil. This is where the name Adam comes from. It simply means earth creature. And it is this clay figure that God breathes life into. Breath, spirit and soul all share the same Hebrew word. God animates this living being with soul and breath.

In the first creation story, God speaks and things happen. In this creation story, God fashions and forms the humans and all the creatures. This is a God who has gotten their hands dirty in the mess of creation. This is a God, playing in the mud and the clay.

Take a handful of modelling clay. Touch it. Squish it. Imagine that this is the clay that God formed into humans. See if you can make something out of your little bit of clay. What does it look like? What does it feel like? It might be something, but is it alive? It is simply a lump of clay. If you breathe on it, does it also breathe? There is something special about the breath of God that breathes life. There is nothing else quite like it in the universe.

This story speaks to the uniqueness of God’s breathe, God’s spirit and the ability of God’s spirit to infuse the creation with life. Within this creation, the humans were given one task: to till and keep the earth. They are given permission to eat from every tree—except one—the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Is this too much responsibility—to care for the earth, to eat and enjoy its bounty within limits? Is it too much to ask? Within this abundance and responsibility, we find the first brokenness in the world. Following the creation of humans, the giving of abundance and boundaries we hear another story. The story of the snake. There is an interaction between the snake and the first woman that goes like this:

The snake goes to the woman and entices her to eat from the one tree that is off limits. “Come on, it will be ok,” says the snake. The woman tries to resist but she knows she wants that fruit, it looks so good hanging there. So she takes it and shares some with the man. This is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And when they ate this fruit, their eyes were open. Just like we hear stories in the gospel of Jesus healing blindness, there is a moment where everything changes and suddenly, there’s no going back to not knowing something, to not seeing something clearly.

This moment in human history brought with it the ability to recognize good and evil. It brought with it the ability to choose right and wrong. It was also a moment when the boundaries were broken for the first time. This moment in human history brought the humans more responsibility. Up until this moment in time, their responsibility was to till the earth and care for it and enjoy the bounty of creation.

Because we have inherited the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of the boundaries and the task of caring for the earth, we have also inherited the responsibility that goes with the knowledge. As humans, it is often greed and our inability to accept boundaries that puts us into conflict with other people and with the creation.

How many wars have been started over land, oil, power, water? How much of our human greed causes environmental destruction: the pollution of air, water, soil, the destruction of wildlife habitat, the extinction of species? As a race, we have forgotten whose breath is within us. We have forgotten our task. We have forgotten our boundaries.

Our faith invites us to return to who we are meant to be. We are called to an awareness of God’s breath and spirit within us. That’s why we breathe in silence at the beginning of worship. It takes us back to that place of creation. It takes us back to the breath of God that is within us and around us. When we have a sense of that breathe we are better able to navigate the choices of good and evil. We are better able to recognize the abundance of the creation and we are better able to accept the boundaries and limits of that creation. May it be so in us.

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One thought on “Breath of Life

  1. Welcome back Jen. This was so beautiful. Love this idea of the quiet breathing in silence being a reflection on God’s presence with us. Plan to use that soon.
    You can’t say everything in one sermon but I am sure you are creatively aware of the stories that would have circulated in songs and designated story tellers in every tribe. We often celebrated these ‘Praise singers’ telling stories in our conferences in Africa.

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