The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1.2)
No other Bible story matches Genesis’s first creation narrative for sheer theatricality. The curtains part on what appears to be a barren stage cloaked in impenetrable, silent night. As our eyes adjust, we detect something is there, yet we’re not quite sure what it is. We sit in the darkness for what seems like an eternity—actually, for what is an eternity—staring into the blackness, feeling the gravitational pull of a shapeless void at center stage.
Going in, we know that this is a one-Person performance piece. We’ve read the reviews, seen pictures based on the drama, and many of us can quote much of the script from memory. So suspense is high as we await God’s spectacular entrance on the scene. The theater buffs among us are pitched with excitement, speculating what sort of stagecraft will accompany God’s arrival. Will there be a blinding bolt of light at God’s command, after which the Creator comes into full view? Will a tremulous rumble swell beneath our feet, followed by the Maker’s revealed presence? Will God’s voice roar out of the night, setting off a rapid chain of events that summons everything that is into being?
In what will become God’s chief characteristic, this drama opens by subverting every expectation. Before the Creator arrives, a wind sweeps over the stage. We hear the ripple and slap of water rising and curling into waves. Still unable to see, we perceive the stage is engulfed in an endless sea. It’s the pregnant medium out of which the entirety of Creation will rise in obedience to God’s voice. Then we hear the Creator call for light. The inky vacuum splits in two and once our eyes adjust to the bright blaze of day, we surmise that we’re watching the dawn of time. Thereafter, the drama unfolds, as God aptly and adroitly assumes an off-stage role via the narrative device ancient dramatists called deus ex machina: the introduction of divine, supernatural power to shape and propel our story.
Regardless how we view Genesis’s creation accounts—as myth, metaphor, miracle, or all of the above—we should own them as the first act in our dramas, not only on the impersonal, epic scale of time and space, but also as the origin of our highly personal, individualized, and intimate relationships with God. As such, we’re compelled to note how God initiates the sacred communion we share. Before God speaks, appears, or commences creation, God moves. God exhales divine breath across the empty waters, brushing their surface with movement. From there on, God is constantly in flux—walking with us in mutual fellowship, seeking us out of our shame and disarray, going before us to light our way, meeting us at our point of need, and rising above us to lead us to higher summits of existence. Movement is how God maintains our equilibrium and that of the world we inhabit. As individuals and communities, we are in constant flux. The human condition is in flux. All of Nature is in flux. And God is in flux.
We often ask God to move on our behalf, as though God were a sedentary monarch who must be pried from his/her throne. Yet that image has no reality in Scripture. Psalm 46.1-3 tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” While we move through lives of perpetual change and upheaval, God is very present, moving with us. It is in God’s nature to keep moving; that’s the first thing we discover about God and, alas, it’s often the first thing we forget. Thus, when we’re tossed about, when the ground beneath us gives way, when life’s seas threaten to swallow us alive, we have no cause to fear. God is moving in the midst of our uncertainty and terror, because God moves with us. We remain in flux together.
An Altar in the World
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of America’s most highly esteemed preachers, speaks of making “an altar in the world,” i.e., heightening our sensitivity to God’s movement around us. Where do we see God move? The big answer, of course, is “everywhere.” But I don’t think that gets us very close to appreciating the extent of God’s movement. Sure, God moves in Nature—in seasonal transitions, in thunderheads gathering on the horizon, in the majestic eagle soaring overhead and the annoying housefly that lights on our table. Yet human ego and self-sufficiency habitually weaken our ability to see and feel God’s movement in others and ourselves.
God moves in the friendly smiles of strangers, in the surprising embraces of people we presume to hold us in low regard, in the sorrow that washes over us when witnessing another's suffering, in mundane touches and voices and exchanged glances that fill our days. God arrives on the scene in flux. God shapes Nature, our world, and us to be in flux. “God is not far from each one of us,” Paul declares to the Athenians, quoting one of their own poets to remind them, “For ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17.27-28) We live and move in God because God lives and moves in, around, and through us. Next time, just before asking God to move for us, perhaps we should pause long enough to see God is already, constantly moving wherever we look.
God arrives on the scene in flux and remains in constant movement wherever we look.