October 4, 2009
Today’s first reading is a creation story. It comes from the second chapter of the book of Genesis. Usually when we listen to creation stories, we look backwards. We try to imagine how things were at the beginning of history, to picture how God began to set all things into place. While we are looking backwards, Christians sometimes engage the scientific community to see if we can square our belief in God as creator with the Big Bang theory or the teaching of evolution.
Now these discussions about the beginning of time are valuable and important. But it is clear that today’s first reading does not primarily look backwards. It is not so much about what happened at the beginning of creation as what is happening now. Its focus is not God’s past action, but our present relationships. The tip-off comes at the end of the passage. After the man finds a suitable partner in woman, the author says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” The focus of this story, then, is God’s presence in our relationships. It is less concerned with the Garden of Eden and more concerned with the sanctity of marriage. It is less concerned with the seven days of creation and more concerned with how we can discern God’s presence in our world. Because we believe that God is creator, we also believe that all created things can speak to us about God. The world around us, the things which are most valuable to us, the goodness within us, all tell us something of the God who made them.
A second grade class was preparing for their confirmation and first communion, and the children were taking this preparation very seriously. They were working with their parents to put together scrapbooks and to do works of service. They were paying particular attention whenever they would get together with their teacher for faith formation. One day when they gathered together, the teacher said, “Today’s lesson is very important. And here’s how I’d like to begin. I want to ask you a question. What is small, gray or brown, furry with a big tail, lives in the trees, and gathers nuts to bury in the ground?” There was silence in the room. Finally a little girl raised her hand and said, “Teacher, I know that the answer is ‘Jesus,’ but it seems an awful lot like a squirrel to me.”
That little girl, in her own way, got it right. Anything in creation can point us to Jesus and through Jesus to God. Because God made all things, then all things have something to tell us about God. Husbands and wives should see one another as God’s gift. Their marriage, at its best, can speak deeply about God’s love and commitment. All of us should see in our friends, in the joy and unity they provide, a sign of the God who knew that it was not good for us to be alone. We come closest to understanding the love of God when we see unity, commitment, and love in one another—in our spouses, in our children, in our parents, and in our friends. That is why this story of creation tells us that a relationship between two people is the ultimate fulfillment of life.
But there’s more to the story. Even though a relationship between two people is the summit of life, the story tells us that God also created the animals of the field and the birds of the air in an attempt to provide partnership and help to the human person. Even though these creatures of God are not given the same value as humans, the text still tells us that they are meant to show us God’s presence and to be in partnership with us in life. This truth was crystallized in the Christian tradition by Saint Francis of Assisi, whose feast is today. Francis saw himself in relationship with all of creation. He spoke of “sister cow” and “brother wolf,” of “sister moon” and “brother sun.” Francis saw all of creation as a family, a family of which he was a part.
We would do well today, to see the world through Francis’ eyes, recognizing that all material world is not so much stuff that we can do with as we wish, but rather a part of us. A squirrel can lead us to Jesus. A marriage can reveal the love of God. Our belief in creation does not ask us to look back. It asks us to look around, to see in the world around us a family to which we belong, to see ourselves in relationship with everything that God has made.