Beginnings

© Rev RexA E Hunt. MSc(Hons)
Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship
Kirribilli NSW


IN A BEGINNING, ONCE UPON A TIME… BUT WHY?

“A supernova explodes in some far-flung corner of the universe.
Billions of years later, driving to work, your heart is broken open
listening to k.d.lang’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah
(Bruce Sanguin)


Most Indigenous Peoples around the world have three common characteristics
that are all intimately connected:
        • they have an intimate, conscious relationship with their place,
        • they are stable ‘sustainable' cultures, often lasting for thousands of years, and
        • they have a rich ceremonial and ritual life.

By contrast Western industrial/techno culture has tried to relate to the world around us
primarily through the rational, left side of our brain.
        We have tended to idolise ideals, reason and logic.

As a result, suggests ‘deep ecologist’ Dolores LaChapelle, we are failing.
“If we are to re-establish a viable relationship,” she urges, “we will need to rediscover the wisdom of these other cultures who knew that their relationship to the land and to the natural world required the whole of their being.”  (LaChapelle 1984)

oo0oo

Most religious traditions, past and present, have a story, or a collection of stories,
they tell regarding the nature of the universe,
          the evolution of the Earth and of life,
          and the destiny of humans in this context.

These cosmological stories are sacred.
They describe the origin of all things through the action of a supernatural deity or deities,
or though some process of nature.

Different religious cultures have different creation myths.
In very broad strokes I have collected the outline of just a few
          of those creation/beginnings myths.

Where they all sync together is
they are really asking the hardest question anyone can ask:
          ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

1. An Ancient Roman myth…
Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality,
doorways, passages, and endings.

He is usually depicted as having two faces,
since he looks to the future and to the past.

It is conventionally thought that the month of January is named for Janus.
As a god of motion, Janus looks after passages,
causes actions to start and presides over all beginnings…
          at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times,
          as well as at marriages and deaths.

2. A Maori Creation myth…
The beginning was emptiness, and nothing existed.
This state is called ‘Te Kore’.

Into that emptiness two gods appeared:
one male god of the sky and one female god of the earth.

The earth and the sky came together and spawned six children:
          the gods of weather; of crops; of war;
          of the sea; of the forests; of plants.

Humankind originated when the god of the forest, Tane, used red ochre
to form the first human and breathed into it.
A crucial difference from some other stories is: the woman was the first being created.

3. Aboriginal Dreamtime stories…
The Dreamtime is every where.
These stories tell of the connectedness or kinship of humans within the environment.
Of being at one with the universe.
“During the daytime we can look outside and we see trees, birds, rivers, the wind in the clouds and the sunshine.  This is the environment that is revealed during the daylight hours…  But at night the other half of the environment is revealed - the universe.  Every clear night we can look up and see millions of stars.  That is also part of our lives…”  (Kneebone 1991:93-94)

The stars are the campfires of ancestors on their journey
        Bright stars were the ancestors who were not long gone.
        Dimmer stars were the ancestors further on the journey.

4. There is the Hebrew Creation myth…
Perhaps the most well known myth within our culture
because it helped shape the western religious tradition
         as a result of a literal interpretation of the biblical Genesis stories.

Well, in September 2015 when I was leading a series of workshops in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
on the material for my then forthcoming book, When Progressives Gather Together,
          I was asked to conclude with a Meditation.

Remembering the Hebrew beginnings myth
and being in the Celtic country of some of my ancestors
          I offered a meditation called… “In a Beginning…”..

IN A BEGINNING… REMEMBERING THE LILIES
B’reshith ba’ra elohim, ‘eth hashameyim w’eth ha’arest…
“In a beginning, when god began to create the heavens and the earth…”

Wehe’erest… tohu wa-bohu… al-ph’ne tehom
“And at that time the earth was desolate, not-yet inhabited…”

Not a birthing story, but a reBirthing story.
A reBirthing story about a primal Creativity and
          the elements of wind and water and wilderness.

In these slippery elements which resist fixed order, Elohim
is trying to fashion her/his image.
          An event which opens up a long chain of subsequent and unforeseeable events,
          both destructive and re-creative ones,
                         in a kind of good news/bad news sequence.  (Caputo 2006)

A narrative told by a brilliant Hebrew storyteller about ‘the earthling’
and the life-giving transformations which Elohim wrought
          not from nothing to something but from the barrenness of being
          to the excitement of life.

Towards the end I alluded to the Yeshu’a story of the lilies...

What can living like the lilies of the field possibly mean
if we do not think that Elohim will intervene in our affairs.
          To straighten things out…?

The lilies of the field are echoes of the first ‘yes’, uttered by the word.
They assure us that the surpassing beauty of the world
          and the joy life holds are not drowned
          by senseless and tragic suffering.

Trust in the momentum of life, for Elohim
has breathed life into the lifeless, unwieldy elements,
          and wherever there is life, there the Spirit breathes.

Do not let hope die.  Let the breath of life flow through you.

The lilies of the field are… the event-fulness
and graciousness of existence…

oo0oo

The need for explanation pulsates in us all.
Philosophers, physicists, cosmologists, theologians, poets, and mythmakers…
          All have attempted to say something about the origin
          and evolution of the universe as a whole
          as they wrestled with the question:
                         ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

Our understanding of the natural world has undergone astonishing transformations
- at least since the 1950s - transformations that have had
          enormous significance for our religious lives.

We now understand the cosmos to have undergone a 13-billion-year evolutionary process,
          our planet to have undergone a 4.5-billion-year evolutionary process,
          and life on our planet to have undergone a 3.5-billion-year evolutionary process.

No other creation story is more fantastic in its account
of how things came to be in the beginning,
“how they came to be as they are, and how each of us received the special characteristics that give us our personal identity”  (Berry 2009:122)

As it turns out Earth is the geological equivalent of the story of Goldilocks…
          not too hot and not too cold,
          not too big and not too small.
The cosmic porridge was ‘just right’!  (Sanguin 2007:89)

Which is just about as close as anyone can get to an answer:
                  ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

The capacity of the natural world to inspire a religious response from humans
has long been recognised.  From the nature mysticism of the ancients
to present-day expressions of wonderment at the beauty and ferocity of the natural world,
          it is clear that humans have always sought to understand
          their relationship to the cosmos.

What greater gift can there be than to be a species endowed with the capacity to perceive,
comprehend, and align itself with the very forces that have governed our universe
for more than 13 billion years?
“To wrap one’s mind around the immensities of space and time is to feel awe, wonder, and humility.  To see how a small planet adrift in space could have nurtured in its bosom the grand experiment that is life is to peek into Darwin’s 'mystery of mysteries.’(Braxton 2007:332)

Opportunities for awe and wonder surround us every day.
          Awe is the feeling of being in the presence
          of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.

Early in human history, as my very brief excursion into beginnings myths highlights,
awe was reserved for feelings toward divine beings.
          Today that feeling can arise when we view the extraordinary,
          such as a photo of Earth from space.

          Or when we view the mundane
          such as watching gold and red autumn leaves pirouette to the ground in a light wind,
                    or the behaviour of dragonflies on a river rock.
           Or in seeing a stranger paying for a homeless persons food at the checkout.

We all need to take the time to pause and open our minds
to those things we don’t immediately comprehend.

oo0oo

Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘the main game’ for any 21st century spirituality.
Whether or not we believe that there is something more,
          nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated
          so as to take nature into account.

No forest, no moon, no ocean, no paddock, can be labeled ‘Buddhist' or ‘Jewish’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘Christian.’
          Nature, Creation, that which is, is far bigger
          and far more ancient than any of our religious traditions.  (Fox 2020)

Beginning or creation stories around the world have usually fallen into three categories:
     (i) the world is unchanging
     (ii) the world is cyclical
     (iii) the world is always changing and time goes in one direction.  (Primack & Abrams 2006:204)

It is my hope that the cosmic evolution story of modern science
will be big enough and uplifting enough to awaken
          a new level of insight, hope, and creativity.

“For just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy, and an orchid is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human.  And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself.”  (Swimme & Tucker 2011:2)

The natural world is a vibrant web of radical relationships.
“This much is certain,” writes Massachusetts professor Chet Raymo  (Raymo 1985/2019)  “the turnip is my cousin.  The humming bird and the hump back whale are twigs on my family tree.  Bacteria and viruses are my kith and kin.” 

Radical relationship… the essence of existence.
Radical relationship… which require our urgent responses.
          Protective responsibility.
          Attentive care.
          Deliberate nurturing.  (Morgan & Garrett 2018)

Such responses echo Indigenous peoples wisdom.
Such responses invite feelings of awe and wonder.
Such responses are supported by the 97% of climate scientists who agree
          that human activity is driving a climate crisis all across the Earth.

Not from nothing to something…
but from the barrenness of being to the excitement of life.
          The dynamics of differentness, innerness, and connectedness.  (Taussig 2008:155)

Bibliography
Berry, A.  “People of the Earth and Sky…” UUA Worship Web, <www.uua.org/spirituallife/worshipweb/>
Braxton, D. M.  “Religious Naturalism and the Future of Christianity”, Zygon 42, 2, (June 2007), 317-341
Caputo, J. D.  The Weakness of God. A Theology of the Event. Indianapolis. Indiana University Press, 2006
Fox, M 
“Returning to the Source. Part 3. - Deep Ecumenism, Deep Ecology” Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox. Blog. 26 February 2020. (Accessed 27 February 2020)
Gleiser, M.  “Who - Or What - Caused the First Cause?” in Orbiter Magazine, 7 November 2019. (Accessed 11 November 2019)
Hunt, R. A. E. 
When Progressive Gather Together. Liturgy, Lectionary, Landscape… And Other Explorations. Northcote. Morning Star Publishing, 2016
Kneebone, E. 
“An Aboriginal Response” in M. Fox et.al. Creation Spirituality and the Dreamtime. Newtown. Millennium Books/E. J. Dwyer, 1991
LaChapelle, D. 
“Ritual is Essential: Seeing Ritual and Ceremony as Sophisticated Social and Spiritual Technology”  One of the articles in Art And Ceremony In Sustainable Culture (IC#5)  Originally published in Spring 1984. (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute.
Morgan, J. & G. Garrett. 
On the Edge: A-Way with the Ocean. Reservoir. Morning Star Publishing, 2018
Primack, J. R. & N. E. Abrams. The View from the Centre of the Universe. Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos. New York. Riverhead Books, 2006
Raymo, C.
“My Very Distant Cousin, the Turnip”. Science Musings. Originally written 14 October 1985.  Blogged 6 August 2019.  (Accessed 10 February 2020)
Sanguin, B.  Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos. An Ecological Christianity. Kelowna. Copper House/Woodlake Publishing, 2007
Shick, S. M. 
Consider the Lilies. Meditations. Boston. Skinner House Books, 2004
Swimme, B. T. & M. E. Tucker. 
Journey of the Universe. New Haven. Yale University Press, 2011
Taussig, H.  “Disparate Presence” in C. W. Hedrick. Ed. When Faith Meets Reason. Religion Scholars Reflect on their Spiritual Journeys. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2008

AND A POEM…
“As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse”
By Billy Collins.
Words for the Year
< https://wordsfortheyear.com/2017/08/21/as-if-to-demonstrate-an-eclipse-by-billy-collins/

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

rexae74@gmail.com