Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reading through the Bible, 2.0

Two years ago, I began a project of reading the entire Bible, from start to finish, with Father Earle King, of Saint Martin in the Fields Church, here in Grand Island, New York. It was my intention to blog my impressions of that experience. Unfortunately, due to computer problems, I was unable to complete the blogging, although I was able to complete the Bible.
This year, Father Earle announced that he would read the Bible through from start to finish again, and he issued the invitation that anyone who wanted to read along with him could do so.
And so, I saw that as an opportunity to restart the blog and, this time, complete the blogging so that I could share some reflections on my reading.
I have now completed my first week of reading and so, I offer this reflection for the week:

God's Creative Powers

Genesis 1:1-1:5 
The version that I heard in church this morning reads like this: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (New Revised Standard Version)
The Bible that I read daily has a somewhat different translation. It sounds like this: "In the beginning, God made heaven and earth. The earth was invisible and unfinished; and darkness was over the deep. The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. God saw the light; it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day; the darkness He called Night; and there was evening and morning, one day." (Saint Athanasius Academy Septuagint)

In today's meditation, I am going to focus on just a few words from the Saint Athanasius Academy Septuagint. 
But first, if you want to read this version along with me, the Bible that I am reading is called The Orthodox Study Bible, and it is published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The words that I am focusing on are: "The earth was invisible and unfinished: and darkness was hovering over the deep."

As an artist, I like to think of myself as creative. I set the paper or the canvas down in front of me. It is blank, just a plain white surface. It could represent a blinding snowstorm. But, usually, that's not how I want to leave it. I set up a still life or a go outside and find something interesting to paint. By the end of my painting session, I have an image on the paper or the canvas that was not there before. I feel good about having created a little two-dimensional world where there had been nothing.
But my creativity is so tiny. God created the heaven and the earth. He placed animals and plants and seas and dry lands. He did all that on an earth that was invisible and unfinished, basically an abstract concept because nothing was there. God was happy with His creation. The phrase "it was good" is repeated over and over in the first chapter of Genesis, giving Genesis a poetic effect. 
God created everything in just six days. They are not necessarily six days as we know them. They are six of God's days, which is beyond my understanding. But still, I can imagine. It seems to me that, when God was creating the earth, he was full of joy, putting something in the heavens that wasn't there. He made suns and moons and stars as well. It was a monumental creation.

So... a few more words: "The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water." What a beautiful image. I wonder if that is why, as people, we tend to be drawn to the water. Most cities are built of the banks of some sort of body of water, whether it is an ocean, a lake, or a river. The water feels sort of magical to us. It gives us life and nourishment. We can't live any longer than about three days if we are completely deprived of water. The water also takes life. We have floods and tsunamis and the water overwhelms us and drowns us and we are swept away in the power of the out of control water.
Water is a powerful image in the Bible. God creates the world, but He also wreaks destruction. He uses water, from which all life flows, to take life. In fact, God wonders if He made a mistake. 
Gensis 6:6-6:7. So God was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and He thought this over. Then God said, "I will blot out man whom I created from the face of the earth, from man to cattle, and from the creeping things to the birds of heaven, for I am grieved I made them. It sounds as if God had become depressed over a creation gone awry.
 In chapters six through nine of Genesis, which I read this week, the dramatic tale of the flood, which destroyed nearly all life on earth, is told. The only people who survive are Noah and his family. A selection of animals are saved, as well. I guess that the fish would have, in general, survived a flood because they were in their element. In chapter seven, verses 17 through 21, the flood is described as:

Now the flood was on the earth forty days and forty nights. The waters increased and lifted up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. So the waters prevailed and greatly increased on the earth, and the ark moved about on the surface of the waters. The waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and covered all the high mountains. And all flesh died that moves on the earth; birds and cattle, wild animals, and every creeping thing that moves on the earth, and every man."\

Everything. Gone just like that. They died sadly: Thus, all things in whose nostrils was the breath of life, and everything on dry land, died... They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah and those with him in the ark remained alive."

Here is something that I find interesting and I hope that you do, too. There are numerous creation stories throughout the earth, and all of them include the telling of a flood story. The flood was massive and it destroyed all life on earth, except for a few who were seen as righteous, as Noah was.

In Wikipedia, I found this segment from a Masai flood story. The Masai live in Africa.
Once upon a time the rivers began to flood. Then God told two people to get into a ship. He told them to take lots of seed and to take lots of animals. The water of the flood eventually covered the mountains. Finally the flood stopped. Then one of the men, wanting to know if the water had dried up let a dove loose. The dove returned. Later he let loose a hawk which did not return. Then the men left the boat and took the animals and the seeds with them.

Here is a Mayan flood myth, complete with a footnote so you can look up the source:
In the first period of the world lived the Saiyamkoob, "the Adjusters," a dwarf race which built cities now in ruins. They worked in darkness, as the sun had not yet appeared. When it did, they turned to stone, and their images can be found in the ruins. Food for the workers was lowered by rope from the sky, but the rope was cut, the blood ran out of it, and the earth and sky separated. This period ended with water over the earth. The Tsolob, "the Offenders," lived in the second period. These, too were destroyed by a flood. The Maya reigned during the third period, but their period was also ended by flood. The fourth and present age is peopled by a mixture of all previous races. [Alexander, 1920, p. 153]

Here is a telling of the flood story, from Ecuador:

Murato (a branch of the Jivaros):
A Murato was fishing in a lagoon of the Pastaza River when a small crocodile swallowed his bait. The fisherman killed it. The mother of crocodiles was angered and lashed the water with her tail, which flooded the area and drowned all people except one man, who climbed a palm tree. It was dark as night, so he dropped a palm fruit from time to time. When he heard it thud on ground rather than splash, he knew the flood had subsided. He climbed down, built a house, and began tilling a field. Being alone, he cut off a piece of his flesh and planted it; from this grew a woman, whom he married. [Frazer, pp. 261-262]

This is a Celtic version:
Heaven and Earth were great giants, and Heaven lay upon the Earth so that their children were crowded between them, and the children and their mother were unhappy in the darkness. The boldest of the sons led his brothers in cutting up Heaven into many pieces. From his skull they made the firmament. His spilling blood caused a great flood which killed all humans except a single pair, who were saved in a ship made by a beneficent Titan. The waters settled in hollows to become the oceans. The son who led in the mutilation of Heaven was a Titan and became their king, but the Titans and gods hated each other, and the king titan was driven from his throne by his son, who was born a god. That Titan at last went to the land of the departed. The Titan who built the ship, whom some consider to be the same as the king Titan, went there also. [Sproul, pp. 172-173]

Transylvanian Gypsy:
Men once lived forever and knew no troubles. The earth brought forth fine fruits, flesh grew on trees, and milk and wine flowed in many rivers. One day, an old man came to the country and asked for a night's lodging, which a couple gave him in their cottage. When he departed the next day, he said he would return in nine days. He gave his host a small fish in a vessel and said he would reward the host if he did not eat the fish but returned it then. The wife thought the fish must be exceptionally good to eat, but the husband said he had promised the old man to keep it and made the woman swear not to eat it. After two days of thinking about it, though, the wife yielded to temptation and threw the fish on the hot coals. Immediately, she was struck dead by lightning, and it began to rain. The rivers started overflowing the country. On the ninth day, the old man returned and told his host that all living things would be drowned, but since he had kept his oath, he would be saved. The old man told the host to take a wife, gather his kinfolk, and build a boat on which to save them, animals, and seeds of trees and herbs. The man did all this. It rained a year, and the waters covered everything. After a year, the waters sank, and the people and animals disembarked. They now had to labor to gain a living, and sickness and death came also. They multiplied slowly so that many thousands of years passed before people were again as numerous as they were before the flood. [Frazer, pp. 177-178]

The last version that I will share is this one:
Hailibu, a kind and generous hunter, saved a white snake from a crane which attacked it. Next day, he met the same snake with a retinue of other snakes. The snake told him that she was the Dragon King's daughter, and the Dragon King wished to reward him. She advised Hailibu to ask for the precious stone that the Dragon King keeps in his mouth. With that stone, she told him, he could understand the language of animals, but he would turn to stone if he ever divulged its secret to anyone else. Hailibu went to the Dragon King, turned down his many other treasures, and was given the stone. Years later, Hailibu heard some birds saying that the next day the mountains would erupt and flood the land. He went back home to warn his neighbors, but they didn't believe him. To convince them, he told them how he had learned of the coming flood and told them the full story of the precious stone. When he finished his story, he turned to stone. The villagers, seeing this happen, fled. It rained all the next night, and the mountains erupted, belching forth a great flood of water. When the people returned, they found the stone which Hailibu had turned into and placed it at the top of the mountain. For generations, they have offered sacrifices to the stone in honor of Hailibu's sacrifice. [Elder & Wong, pp. 75-77]

Many thanks to Mark Isaac for compiling so many flood stories. For more flood stories from around the world, take a look at his website at Flood Stories from All Over the World. It makes for fascinating reading.

Check back next week for another Biblical reflection and, until then, have a great week!


  1. The great number of flood legends is fascinating. I have survived a flood that destroyed parts of my neighborhood, but just an ordinary type floods. I enjoyed your viewpoints about the creative process. Alana

    1. Thank you, Alana. Floods are devastating, even if they are ordinary. I'm glad that you survived and I hope that your neighborhood is recovering.

  2. Wow! That is cram packed but was a nice read. I like that you've put so much thought into it and compared it to your art. I have many questions about religion, and though Methodist all of my life, am exploring others to familiarize myself and revisit my own faith, with a better understanding of religion as a whole. I have moved recently and miss hearing my pastor, a master + of theology describe how life was in those countries all those years ago and my intelligence level isn't nearly that to comprehend and make the association for those things. I love the thought of God making the waters though, the most amazing thing on earth, the one thing we cannot live without, but sometimes find hard to live with.