Inspired by Genesis 1: 1-5
It is fascinating that the biblical Creation Story begins with this Great Ordering; a segregation of the world into spaces of light and spaces of darkness bound by containers of felt experience that we, ourselves, have organized into a concept called “time.”
About this Great Ordering, today’s commentator writes that, “inasmuch as the sun had not yet been created, this verse probably refers to a divine manipulation of light as a creative act. The sun, when created, augmented the already existing light. Israelites believed light, often a symbol of life and salvation and characteristic of the presence of God, was fundamental to the creation, pushing back the darkness making life possible (p343).”
In this scriptural framework, we understand the organization unfolding in the first verses of Genesis as an act of creating space for the presence of Light. Our witness of this intentional pushing back of darkness to allow safe space for the proliferation of new creation offers us fertile soil to discern our own imaginative work in a time marked by the awakening of privileged minds to pains of those violently and chronically oppressed by social constructs of whiteness.
It is the interpretation of this Great Ordering, the organization designed because of the meaning we have inserted into this narrative landscape, that will be the focus of today’s reflection. Specifically, the ways in which our own ordering within the confines of American Empire is exhausting the full expression and collaborative creativity that was initiated in this original Great Ordering.
Together we seek to identify the places where we find ourselves pushing back darkness in order that Light might enter the public life of a new day. Likewise, we seek awareness of normalized practices that block our collective consciousness from consequences of systems empowered when we reverse this original divine demonstration of Great Ordering. We hold space in a muddled grey area to explore communal patterns that have pulled the presence of Light so far into the darkness of the Night, that it has become un-knowable, even to our searching eye.
I step softly into this grey area with the weight of my own experience as a clergy serving embodied as a white woman in a culture that overtly prefers masculine presence in all forms of public leadership. And, I am aware, as aware as my whiteness allows me to be, that the construct of whiteness provides the privilege to manage, to negotiate, to manipulate the system in ways unavailable to my clergy Sisters of Color.
In my whiteness, I can dance around, sidestep, entertain the lessons so generously offered by the patriarchal systems that construct them. I can laugh them off and reclaim my position when it is assumed that I am the secretary, when I am the officiant. I can delete emails instructing me how to dress or speak or lead a congregation. I can zone out during conversations offering me helpful insight into what I need to know or how I need to behave. I can silently rage from the cumulative burn of being born with a voice that remains regularly unheard and I can turn and walk back into the room without consequence because I am categorized as white.
I’m sharing my experience of being in the world not as a means to shame any person or group or to receive any response of sympathy. I am sharing my experience of being in the world because this week it has been incredibly helpful in understanding the ferocity and relentlessness of the protesters who march, kneel and lay their lives out for the possibility of change. It has not been the statistics, the facts, or even video footage that ultimately aligns me with the uphill climb toward equality. It has been the weight I carry within a patriarchal culture so incessant, so powerful that it pulls every bold, prophetic voice into the darkness without even having been aware it was doing so…without ever feeling the fight or carrying the weight in the journey of pushing and pulling so many voices into places unseen, unheard, unknown.
My point is not that my walk, my weight is the same as those who embody black and brown bodies. My point is that because I have lived under the radar of an awareness constructed by those in power, I am aware of my own unawareness. I am aware of my blindness even as I am aware that I am not aware of all that this blindness blocks out. I am aware that my blindness results in a weight that others carry, just as I am aware that I know little, if anything, of what it feels like to carry this weight. Perhaps, most importantly, I am aware that my own liberation is bound up in the liberation of all people and I am aware that I do not have enough awareness to lead …but I do have enough awareness to know that I must be willing to learn.
And, I am learning that white communities are trying to offer answers to questions that aren’t even being asked; that we are legitimizing, criticism and advising cultures on experiences that we have never experienced let alone that we confess that these experiences truly exist.
And, I am confessing to the intentionality in my own grasping of ignorance about these other ways of knowing, other ways of learning that lead us toward the darkness of our of arrogance. I am confessing that the creation story has been redacted and retold in ways that heighten humans, that manufacture and idolize white bodies, until all we hold is our own creation story as a heretical mastery over the world.
And, I believe, that if the protests are to add up to something grander than the sum of their parts, we must all become aware that there are limits to our awareness. We must all posture ourselves in an uncomfortable openness ready to learn. If we are to survive, or more importantly, if we are to evolve toward any form of spiritual aliveness, we must embrace that awareness is the primary ingredient required for becoming and remaining spiritually alive…a status identified by our communal presence in the Light.
In Ann Druyan’s book, Cosmos, she explains that the dawn of awareness occurred with the first one-celled organisms in the ocean; “microbes using their tiny flagella to swim toward the sunlight dappling the surface of the ocean, while others sought refuge in the deep. These one-celled microbes may not have known much, but they did know some things: ‘Go to the light…oops, too much light. Find somewhere dark’…. when you think about it,” Druyan writes, “the defining quality of being alive is the ability to adapt to your environment. And you can’t do that very well without being aware on some level. (p165).”
The awe invoked by Druyan’s scientific account of the dawn of awareness rises from the fact that our very lives are indebted to the awareness and response of these one-celled microbe’s relationship with the Light. Humans as a species are the result of billions of living, evolving organisms becoming aware and responding over billions of years. Druyan writes, “No one looking at microbial mat three billion years ago could have predicted that the one-celled organisms of life on Earth would evolve into you. That’s what happens when living things and the environments interact over the course of eons, making it possible for smaller entities to unite and evolve” (p166). We are the inheritors of an evolution hallmarked by fluidity and humility; an unplanned succession dependent on the awareness of our relationship to something greater than ourselves within the limitedness of our created constructs.
This is the wisdom of the Creation Story; an illumination of our dependence on a Divine Wind creating space for Light and an indebtedness to all the lifeforms which adapted before us to shift and transform creating the most peculiar, specific circumstances that gift us with Life. Light and Life; the two elements of Creation. Awareness and response; the essence of being alive.
In the most recent Special Time Edition: Beautiful Phenomena: Discovering Nature’s Most Exotic Wonders there is a centerfold featuring the most gorgeous picture of a cloud filled sky paired with this explanatory blurb:
“Considering today’s advanced technologies, you might think scientists would have a firm grasp on weather phenomena. But they don’t: the process of an everyday lightning strike is still not fully understood. Some phenomena are still being explored, such as the strange electrical events in the upper atmosphere that scientists call sprites and jets. Even the study of clouds is ongoing – 12 new types of them were recognized by the World Meteorological Associations authoritative International Cloud Atlas in March 2017. One reason: everyday folks armed with cellphone cameras are helping scientists discover ever more novel and unusual atmospheric events.”
I wonder, if we were to contemplate the possibility that the construction of whiteness is an attempt to create our own world, to control and contain a story belonging to the cosmos, if this would raise the walls of our social constructions enough to see other worlds existing around us? Other stories holding a Truth different than our own?
Druyan reminds us that, “This is the essence of emergence: tiny units of matter operating collectively to become something much more than themselves, to enable the cosmos to know itself” (p170). The inception of the cosmos as held in the Creation Story in Genesis is a rich reminder that this is not a story for one person or for one community or for one country to hold. It is a foreshadowing of the coming kin-dom in which hierarchy is flattened and white communities step down from a construction intent on making the story of creation all its own. It is a story of wonder and awe, of searching and learning, of becoming aware of all that we are not aware of; it is a Great Ordering where many hearts hold many ways of knowing and the only extinction is of the competition for a place in the Creation Story.