The Raw Materials of Life
The first book of the Bible begins: “In the beginning, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the deep. And, God said: ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”
Other translations read: “The Spirit of God was brooding over “the face of the deep” or over the “waters.” Ancients thought of water as chaos. I am not sure they thought of it as the raw material of life, but that is how I am thinking of water and the face of the deep as I read this passage.
If the image is one of God brooding over the chaos, that is a powerful and primal image. God, the Creator, brooding over the raw materials of life. And, then, God says: “Let there be light.” Out of the darkness and brooding comes the creative Word, and the Creator is forming something out of the raw materials of life.
Now, orthodox theology would object to calling the “chaos” or “waters” something (raw materials of life) instead of nothing. Because a great teaching of the Church is the doctrine of creation out of nothing. And, I understand the question: “well, if there was something instead of nothing in the beginning,then where did the something come from?” Believing that all things come from God and hold together in God, I still don’t have any way of talking about creating out of nothing. Then, when did God come to exist? The answer: God has just always been there. At some point, we have to assume the existence of something or somebody to even begin to think.
And, the Bible assumes the existence of some rudimentary form of matter or chaotic elements in order to speak about God’s creative activity. I’m not that concerned about the first assumption about matter or non-matter that allows for thought. I am simply caught up in the opening words that read more like a poem than a historical or scientific account. “In the beginning, the Spirit of God was brooding over the face of the deep. And, God said: ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’”
Sometimes the only way we have of speaking of transcendent reality is through telling a story that draws us into the reality we are trying to describe. There is something primal and elemental and deeply holy and true in these first words of the Bible. The moment of creation is eternally present and recurs as we experience this moment over and over as an existential moment or series of moments in human life. Is there not something within each individual that “broods over the face of the deep,” that hovers over the face of the chaotic,” that contemplates the raw materials of life and somehow at some point hears the words or even says: “Let there be light?” and so illuminates the raw materials of life and begins the process of creating, shaping?
I am left with a couple of thoughts. There is no meaningful creative action unless the spirit “broods” over the darkness and chaos. The creative word and act arises out of engagement and involvement with the raw materials of life, which are a disordered potentiality. Most religion starts on the other side of the creative act, seeing God as the creator who finished it all up in “six days.” But, it seems to me that true religion finds its beginning, not on the other side of the finished creation,but in the middle of the brooding and shaping of that creative Word that is coming into being from God. By participating in this creative movement, a human being is able to engage the raw materials of life and somehow give shape to them or at least recognize the shape being given them by the great Other.
Understanding that it is our destiny to “brood over the face of chaos,” gives us a sense of purpose and confidence as we encounter disorienting experiences in life. And, gives us hope that at the center of everything, including our lives, is a mysterious movement from darkness to light.