Thursday, October 02, 2008

Embrace Life

Genesis 1:1-2:3[1]

Some of you know that I planned on starting a sermon series today on the topic “Embrace Your Life.” In light of the events of the last 10 days, I must confess that I wondered whether I should go ahead with my plan. What I realized is that, just as the force of a hurricane dredge up all kinds of debris from the Gulf, so the stress of displacement and disruption uncovers what we have buried within ourselves because it is too hard to face. I decided that I would go ahead with my plan—what better time to try to learn to embrace the life we have than when we’re all struggling with the residue of our lives in the wake of disaster.

The idea for this series came to me from reading what I consider to be one of the great self-help books of all time. I’m referring to Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore, a Christian Psychologist. His message is that instead of the obsessive pursuit of “Your Best Life Now,” or a “Better You,” the best way to find true happiness in life is to embrace life as it is, with all its wonderful complexity: good and bad, joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, fulfillment and disappointment.[2]

Moore uses ancient myths to make the point that we don’t find fulfillment in life by trying to “make” it better. Stories like the “Odyssey” or “Tristan and Isolde” remind us that we don’t find happiness by trying to get rid of whatever is causing us pain or frustration or discouragement. Rather, our “problems” become the means of motivating us in the very ways that make life more joyful, peaceful, and fulfilled. [3]

The ancient stories help us remember that life is wonderfully complex. There is a bewildering diversity about it. There is a frightening unpredictability about it. Behind every cloud is a silver lining, but behind every “silver lining” is also a cloud of darkness that we would rather not have to face.[4] Love includes the joy of being intimate with another human being as well as the pain of distance and the sadness of bereavement.[5] Work can be incredibly stimulating and it can also be numbing in its boredom.[6] Then there are families—many of us are positively frantic to escape the influence of our families, only to discover that we might as well try to escape from our own shadow![7]

Moore argues that the ancient wisdom about life depicts life as a tapestry that includes both light and darkness, both joy and pain, both happiness and sadness.[8] Trying to remove those threads that don’t fit our schemes only unravels our lives. A different approach is to step back and learn to recognize the beauty of the whole fabric of life—all of life, life just as it is. Those threads and colors and patterns that we initially want to remove or change may in fact lead us to a deeper appreciation of life in all it’s complexity—and therefore become the source of joy and fulfillment in life that is more complete and lasting.

I would suggest this is also the wisdom of the Bible regarding our lives. Our fundamental Bible stories also encourage us to embrace life in all its imperfection. The stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Sarah and their family help us to appreciate the beauty of life—which includes both “good” and “bad.” The story of Creation is where it all begins in the Bible. Though it is doubtful that it is the first story to have been written in the Bible, the Creation story serves as a basis for much of the way we view our world and our lives.

Other creation stories of that time portrayed the deities as capricious and malicious. Creation was intended only to serve their every whim. Human existence was an afterthought or even a nuisance to the gods.[9] In stark contrast, Genesis reveals a God who broods over creation like an artist over a great painting or sculpture.[10] The idea here is that what comes from this intense creative work is something that is beautiful and of immense value to the artist.[11]

And the result of this creative brooding is not only a world that is ordered according to the Creator’s design, but also an incredible diversity of life in all colors and shapes and sizes! The waters of the deep are instructed to “swarm with an abundance of living beings” (Gen. 1:20, Inclusive Bible)! The earth is to bring forth “plants that scatter their own seeds and every kind of fruit tree that bears fruit with its own seed in it,” along with “all kinds of wild animals, and cattle, and everything that crawls on the ground” (Gen. 1:24). And at the end of it all, “God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that this was good—very good” (Gen. 1:31, Inclusive Bible).

When we look at the world of nature today what do we see? Do we see a thing that can be used to benefit us? Or a beautiful web of life that includes us along with all nature? Many look at the world of nature and ask why God would have created so many different kinds of living creatures—there are over a million identified species of insects! A scientific answer might point to the way the great “circle of life” is deeply connected. A more biblical answer might simply suggest that God created such diversity because it was necessary to make creation “very good”!

One of the most important lessons from the story of Creation is that our obsessive compulsion to change everything, to “make” everything into something else (more appealing, more attractive, more profitable, etc.) fails to recognize the inherent beauty in all of creation.[12] The biblical view of creation is that God has filled everything with life and beauty. An outlook that is consistent with this not only views all of creation with reverence, but also sees beauty in everything and everyone.[13] The Bible’s story of creation encourages us to say, “Everything is beautiful, in its own way!”[14] It encourages us to embrace our life just as it is, with all its wonderful complexity.

[1] © 2008 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 9/21/08 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.

[2] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, xii, xvi-xvii, 4, 14.f

[3] Moore, Care of the Soul, xv, 9-10, 16, 18-21.

[4] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 16-17.

[5] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 89.

[6] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 180-89.

[7] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, 26-27, 31-32.

[8] Cf. Moore, Care of the Soul, xix, 19.

[9] Cf. Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, 12-13, 24-25; G. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary, xlv-liii; cf. also Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation, 72-73; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.1.89-90, 243-44.

[10] cf. Gen. 1:2, The Inclusive Bible: “the Spirit of God was brooding over the surface of the waters.” Some scholars would interpret “Spirit” here as a great wind! Jürgen Moltmann argues that in a very real sense the Spirit of God still broods over creation—“Everything that is, exists and lives in the unceasing inflow of the energies and potentialities of the cosmic Spirit. … Through the energies and potentialities of the Spirit, the Creator is himself present in his creation.” Cf. Moltmann, God in Creation, 9; cf. also ibid., 10-16, 96, 99-100, 258. Contrast Barth, Dogmatics, 3.1.56-59, 106-110, who insists that it is the “Word” that brings creation out of the “formless and void” chaos of the primeval world, whereas the Spirit “hovers and broods over it impotently because wordlessly” (p. 108)!

[11] Cf. Brueggemann, Genesis, 36-37; cf. also Moltmann, God in Creation, 75-76, where he presents creation as the communication of God’s love, and therefore the communication of God’s goodness to his creation.

[12] Cf. Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul, 277-280; he defines beauty (p. 279) as “the quality in things that invites absorption and contemplation”; i.e., beauty is a source of imagination that allows us to appreciate the sacred in everything around us.

[13]Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, 48-50.

[14] Ray Stevens, “Everything is Beautiful,” Barnaby Records, 1970.

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