Friday, May 27, 2016

rhythm of the heart

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love. Seeing this gives us the courage to keep on living, and it empowers us, comforted thereby, to take upon ourselves the adventure of life.

--Benedict XVI, In the Beginning: a Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall

Pope Benedict's lucid homilies on the creation narratives of Genesis, and what deeper realities they teach us about the human race are a breath of fresh air. They are, as I told my friends, like sipping fresh rainwater from a teacup made of Himalayan snow. They are lucid sips of sunshine and light, that refresh the imagination and strengthen the heart. They gently correct my pitiful, self-centered myopia with a sweeter vision of cosmic generosity and self-gift.

Benedict writes of how the creation narrative of Genesis tells us, joyfully, that we are of a piece with this earth, we were made to live in rhythm with this beautiful world. It tells us that there is a rhythm and an order to the natural world, and that is no accident, but a beautiful symphony of love.

In his homilies, Benedict redirects our attention from asking the Genesis narrative to tell us the mechanics of the world's creation, and instead asks us to focus on what the narrative tells us about why the world was created.

He compares the story of Genesis, which is a story of rational, thoughtful design to other creation myths. In the opening passages of Genesis, each day grows out of each day, each era builds, evolves, upon what was built in the epoch before. It is an exquisitely constructed piece, like a symphony or a cathedral, ordered by the elegant numbers seven and ten. We see that the world comes from a Being who breathes order on the dark and mindless chaos of the primordial waters. Our earth was made by a Being who makes what is beautiful and repeats, ceaseless, His celebration of its goodness.

The universe is not the product of darkness and unreason. It comes from intelligence, freedom, and from the beauty that is identical with love.

This is a truth that has never been taken for granted, and it continues to be the great joyful duty of those who believe that the universe comes from beauty and love to live their lives as signs of that love.

Benedict compares this Genesis account with the ancient Babylonian creation myth of Marduk. In the beginning, there was a battle of the gods, and out of this conflict came the earth. The chief Babylonian god Marduk killed and split a fierce dragon goddess in two to create the heavens and the earth.

Such views were not simply fairy tales, writes Benedict, They expressed the discomfiting realities that human beings experienced in the world and among themselves. For often enough it looks as if the world is a dragon’s lair.

An account of the earth's origins directly impacts how the earth functions in our imaginations. If we look around us, it might seem to us that the world is a place of constant, eternal conflict. It might not seem improbable to believe that this violent, terrible world's origin was a bloody, violent act.

But if we believe that, what is the good of our pitiful attempts to bring goodness to a place that is, by its nature, violent and dark? What is the point of our silly art, that captures this illusion of beauty we see here in this ruthless and pitiless world? A narrative of creation that highlights the violence and disorder of the world emphasizes that violence and disorder in our imaginations.

But if the world was a result of love, if it was designed and ordered to be beautiful and good, then this violence and disorder that inundates us is not woven into its nature. It is not inescapable. It is a blight on creation that can be washed away, not the inevitable result of a world whose very essence is chaos. Our attempts to bring light to the darkness, to bring goodness, joy, and the beauty that is identical with love to this world are not pathetic attempts of delusional creatures. They are our inclusion in the creating act of God.

Human beings, built from the dust of the earth, and given the spirit of God inside of them, are invited into the process of creation. We are held responsible for creation--the natural world, our fellow humans, our selves--to cherish her, not harm her. For harm, which seems like a staple of the world, is not inherent to this universe of beauty. As we live, each day, we are invited to make some corner of our world beautiful as well, an act of love instead of an act of violence. Because our acts of love and our worship resonates with the fundamental core of the cosmos, harmonizes with the rhythm of the natural world, we call it very good.

Seeing this gives us the courage to keep on living, and it empowers us, comforted thereby, to take upon ourselves the adventure of life.

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