Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our Original Beauty

A continuation of my retreat notes.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

As I have thought matters more and more, I have come to realize that when God creates, He does so by beautifying; God orders what is chaotic; He fills what is empty to overflowing; He illumines what is in darkness; He redeems that which is lost. In other words, God is not simply a Creator, He is not simply an Artist, He is, from the first moment of His relationship to the cosmos, a Redeemer and it is beauty that is the hallmark of His redemptive work.

Beauty is not merely decorative, a nice but optional after thought—it is a basic quality of creation. To be is to be beautiful. In the case of humanity this outpouring of beauty is a reflection of divine deliberation and intention. When God creates humanity, when He creates you and me, He does so with deliberation: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gn 1.26) God, St John Chrysostom says,

did not say, as He did when creating other things, "Let there be a human." See how worthy you are! Your origins are not in the imperative. Instead God deliberated about the best way to bring to life a creation worthy of honor.

According to the saint, God signals our creation with "deliberation, collaboration and conference . . . not because God needs advice . . . but so that the very impact of the language of our creation would show us honor."

But what is this divinely created honor that is given to humanity? As originally created, it belongs to humanity—to you and me, to each of us personally and communally—to sum up in ourselves, the beautiful creation.

Scripture informs us that the Deity proceeded by a sort of graduated and ordered advance to the creation of man. After the foundations of the universe were laid, as the history records, man did not appear on earth at once, but the creation of the brutes preceded him, and the plants preceded them. Thereby Scripture shows that the vital forces blended with the world of matter according to graduation; first it infused itself into insensate nature; and in continuation of this advanced into the sentient world; and then ascended to intelligent and rational beings. . . . The creation of man is related as coming last, as of one who took up into himself every single form of life, both that of plants and that which is seen in brutes.

To be human means that we are created in the "image and likeness" of God (cf., Gn 1.26); as icons of the Most Holy Trinity, we are both the reason for, and the voice of, creation. Let me make this a bit stronger.

God creates by naming things—He calls "the light Day," the darkness He calls "Night," the firmament, "Heaven," the dry land "Earth," the waters "Sea," and all of it He calls "good" (Gn 1.1-10). It is this god-like task of naming the creation that God entrusts to humanity. It is the Man who gives "names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field."(Gn. 2.20) To be human is to be a prophetic creature because, as the "mouthpiece" of God, we give voice to that which God has done. So while it is God Who creates the lion and the lamb, it is the Man who is called by God to bear witness in the presence of the angels (for who else can listen and understand the names that the Man bestows?) to what God has done by naming the animals.

As he goes about the task of bestowing, or maybe more accurately bearing witness, to the significance and meaning of creation, the First Adam discovers something about himself that we can reasonable assume God already knew: That in all creation "there was not found a helper for him." (Gn 2.20) The man is profoundly lonely and he knows without any doubt at all that it "is not good for man to be alone."

Unlike humanity after the Fall, Adam before the Fall is faithful to his prophetic vocation no matter where it leads him. Eventually his vocation to be the voice of creation leads him to discover and then bear witness to the fact that there is in him a longing not simply for communion with God, not simply for work, but for human companionship and community; to be human is to be a being-for-others.

God responds to the man's need for human companionship and community by causing "a deep sleep to fall upon the man." And while the man sleeps, God takes "one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh" and uses the rib to make "woman" who God then introduces to the man (Gn 2.21-22). When he sees the Woman the Man declares (again exercising his prophetic vocation):

This at least is bone of my bones

    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman

    because she was taken out of Man (v.23)

Unlike the rest of creation, which is created by divine declaration and instantaneously, humanity is created only after divine deliberation and even then, only by stages. Like the rest of creation we are ontologically contingent, that is, dependent upon God for our existence. Unlike the rest of creation however, there is room in our being for our own freedom—yes we though we are dependent on God, we are not passive, God waits upon us before He completes our creation and then He only completes our creation together with us. Only when we discover and bear witness to what is lacking in us, does God act. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us, God "will not have us always saved by grace [alone], . . . He will have us contribute something from ourselves as well."

But, as we saw earlier, there is often a gap between who we are called to be in Christ and how we live. While there are a number of reasons for this, a very general reason is that we often fail to realize what we have been given.

More tomorrow…