Archives For Creation

It’s Still Christmas

December 29, 2012 — 10 Comments

nativity iconMerry Christmas!

One of the sad things about living in a secular nation is that people understand very little about the real meaning of Christmas. For example, many people take their trees down on 26 December, mistakenly thinking Christmas is “over.” In reality, the Christian celebration of the Nativity of Jesus only begins on Christmas Day!

The commercial world celebrates the season of Advent and deceptively calls it “Christmas.” These weeks, which should mark a spiritual preparation akin to Lent, are instead transformed into a frantic race to accumulate the perfect gifts to show others just how much we value each of them. And, since we love our family and close friends, there is a constant temptation to be far more extravagant in our gift giving than we can afford.

Returning to the season of Christmas, in which we find ourselves this day . . . we discover a brief occasion to focus our spiritual reflections on the singular Christmas miracle, the Incarnation. God becoming a human being. The Word through whom all things were created, becoming a mortal like the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve fashioned in his own likeness.

Christmas is, indeed, a glorious season.

C.S. Lewis had many insights into the Incarnation miracle. It is most certainly worthy of our serious attention. If it did not actually happen, Jesus should be dismissed altogether, for he claimed to be one with our heavenly Father. However, as Lewis declared in Miracles, “If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth.”

One of the great literary treasures of the world is a precious book written before the year Anno Domini 318. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote a treatise called “On the Incarnation,” which makes great reading and is readily available online. A fairly modern translation was written by Sister Penelope Lawson, an Anglican nun.

Sister Penelope prevailed upon C.S. Lewis to write an introduction to her translation, in which he said, “This is a good translation of a very great book.” The full volume, complete with Lewis’ outstanding preface, is available. Here is just one of his gems:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.

Still, as wonderful as Lewis’ introductory comments are, the greatest treasures here are the bishop’s teachings about Jesus. To whet your appetite, taste the following wisdom from Athanasius’ own introduction to his work:

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to His own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men. We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

You can read the entire work at this site. Have a blessed Christmas season!

Creation Story Similarities

September 20, 2012 — 4 Comments

I love being welcomed into other cultures by individuals who are proud of their heritage and eager to share it. Yesterday I attended a gathering of pastors at a church in Neah Bay, Washington, which lies in the far northwest corner of the “Lower Forty-Eight” United States.

Neah Bay is the largest community on the Makah Indian Reservation. A visit to the outstanding Makah Museum taught me many things. The unfortunate burial of the Makah village of Ozette preserved numerous artifacts that teach us about “pre-contact” Native American tribal life. A 1750 mudslide covered ten long houses and that tragedy has been redeemed in a small way by providing the modern Makah nation with a wealth of knowledge about its ancestors.

As a dog lover, I was fascinated by the fact that the Makah bred a special type of dog that was sheered for its “wool.” This, of course, was due to the absence of sheep, goats, llamas and the like. These particular canines were kept on an island to prevent their interbreeding with camp dogs. Unfortunately, their breed is no longer known, although I am curious as to whether it could be established from studying remains, assuming the tribe still knows which island was used as their refuge.

The news that intrigued me most was that, in Makah mythology, at the time of their creation, all of the animals could speak. Now, it will not surprise any readers to know this reminded me of another creation tale. My thoughts immediately leapt to the story of Narnia’s creation, which C.S. Lewis describes in The Magician’s Nephew.

[Aslan] was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his. He would touch two beavers among all the beavers, two leopards among all the leopards, one stag and one deer among all the deer, and leave the rest. . . . the creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him. . . . The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones—the rabbits, moles, and such-like—grew a good deal larger. The very big ones—you noticed it most with the elephants—grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand.

The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees. Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

In the Makah creation story, the two brothers of the sun and moon changed preexisting material into the people and creatures we know today. Here is the brief account of their labors. It is interesting to note that both accounts impute personhood to the trees, as well as the animals.

When the world was very young, there were no people on the earth. There were no birds or animals, either. There was nothing but grass and sand and creatures that were neither animals nor people but had some of the traits of people and some of the traits of animals.

Then the two brothers of the Sun and the Moon came to the earth. Their names were Ho-ho-e-ap-bess, which means “the Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things.” They came to make the earth ready for a new race of people, the Indians. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things called all the creatures to them. Some they changed to animals and birds. Some they changed to trees and smaller plants.

Among them was a bad thief. He was always stealing food from creatures who were fishermen and hunters. The Two-Men-Who- Changed-Things transformed him into Seal. They shortened his arms and tied his legs so that only his feet could move. Then they threw Seal into the Ocean and said to him, “Now you will have to catch your own fish if you are to have anything to eat.”

One of the creatures was a great fisherman. He was always on the rocks or was wading with his long fishing spear. He kept it ready to thrust into some fish. He always wore a little cape, round and white over his shoulders. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed him into Great Blue Heron. The cape became the white feathers around the neck of Great Blue Heron. The long fishing spear became his sharp pointed bill.

Another creature was both a fisherman and a thief. He had stolen a necklace of shells. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed him into Kingfisher. The necklace of shells was turned into a ring of feathers around Kingfisher’s neck. He is still a fisherman. He watches the water, and when he sees a fish, he dives headfirst with a splash into the water.

Two creatures had huge appetites. They devoured everything they could find. The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things transformed one of them into Raven. They transformed his wife into Crow. Both Raven and Crow were given strong beaks so that they could tear their food. Raven croaks “Cr-r-ruck!” and Crow answers with a loud “Cah! Cah!”

The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things called Bluejay’s son to them and asked, “Which do you wish to be—a bird or a fish?”

“I don’t want to be either,” he answered.

“Then we will transform you into Mink. You will live on land. You will eat the fish you can catch from the water or can pick up on the shore.”

Then the Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things remembered that the new people would need wood for many things.

They called one of the creatures to them and said “The Indians will want tough wood to make bows with. They will want tough wood to make wedges with, so that they can split logs. You are tough and strong. We will change you into the yew tree.”

They called some little creatures to them. “The new people will need many slender, straight shoots for arrows. You will be the arrowwood. You will be white with many blossoms in early summer.”

They called a big, fat creature to them. “The Indians will need big trunks with soft wood so that they can make canoes. You will be the cedar trees. The Indians will make many things from your bark and from your roots.”

The Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things knew that the Indians would need wood for fuel. So they called an old creature to them. “You are old, and your heart is dry. You will make good kindling, for your grease has turned hard and will make pitch. You will be the spruce tree. When you grow old, you will always make dry wood that will be good for fires.”

To another creature they said, “You shall be the hemlock. Your bark will be good for tanning hides. Your branches will be used in the sweat lodges.”

A creature with a cross temper they changed into a crab apple tree, saying, “You shall always bear sour fruit.”

Another creature they changed into the wild cherry tree, so that the new people would have fruit and could use the cherry bark for medicine.

A thin, tough creature they changed into the alder tree, so that the new people would have hard wood for their canoe paddles.

Thus the Two-Men-Who-Changed-Things got the world ready for the new people who were to come. They made the world as it was when the Indians lived in it.

Nature’s Melodies

July 12, 2012 — 9 Comments

Recently we were walking our five year old granddaughter home after a visit to our house, and she said something remarkable. (Our son’s family lives on a forested parcel adjacent to our own near Puget Sound.)

This precious little girl gazed to the top of the tall pine and fir lining the path and said, “I love the music the woods make.” She went on to describe various elements of nature’s orchestra, including the whistling wind in the treetops, the croaking of innumerable frogs drumming down by the pond, and, of course, the varied melodies of the birds who also call this glorious place “home.”

It was a wonderful moment.

When we pause to appreciate nature, it reminds us of the beneficent God who created it. Nature, especially when it is pristine and untouched by human hand, is truly wondrous. There are, I recognize, some “natural” settings that might actually be improved by human intervention . . . but these are few.

Unspoiled nature is beautiful. And that is a crucial distinction to make—because nature too has been corrupted by humanity’s fall from grace. Its capricious temperament is manifested in storms and other disasters.

So we, as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve must be content to savor this blurred image of God’s original creation. For, even this corrupted world, is surely magnificent.

C.S. Lewis appreciated this truth. He and his close friends enjoyed many a long walk across the English countryside.

Nature is an awe-inspiring thing, but she is incapable of communicating ultimate joy. To find that, we must look beyond the forest to see who wrote the music it so eloquently sings.

In The Four Loves, Lewis emphasizes this truth:

Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some pokey little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End parish. But the love of her has been a valuable and, for some people, indispensable initiation.

May our Creator grant us the opportunity to enjoy his unfathomable creation—even as we recognize that it is only by his boundless grace we are capable of doing so.

The Dearest of Deer

May 25, 2012 — 10 Comments

Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to live in a home surrounded by a forest!

When I was driving home this afternoon I was stunned by the majestic flight of a dozen bald eagles as they danced in the sky above our small community of Seabeck, Washington. I pulled to the side of the road and enjoyed their ballet for some time before deciding that I would blog about eagles when I returned home.

Then I saw something even more precious. Just outside the window of my study a doe and her two (very) young fawns walked past. I grabbed my camera and snapped no fewer than fifty photos as they grazed on the nearby lawn. (I decided as they wandered on down another trail that the post on the eagles would wait.)

The fawns were so tiny I don’t think they could have been fourteen inches tall. (Sorry, we older Americans are still metric-impaired.) They stood as though they were still getting the feel of their tiny legs. It was a glorious scene.

C.S. Lewis graced the land of Narnia with a stunning array of creatures. Some are not found in this world, apart from myths. Unicorns and centaurs would be of that ilk.

I happen to find the others even more fascinating. The horses, dogs and bears that are familiar to us, but different. Different because they have been gifted with speech, and with it, the ability to know and follow their Maker.

As he wrote in his description of Narnia’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew:

And now, for the first time, the Lion [Aslan] was quite silent. He was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his. He would touch two beavers among all the beavers, two leopards among all the leopards, one stag and one deer among all the deer, and leave the rest. . . . The creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him. . . .

The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones—the rabbits, moles, and such-like—grew a good deal larger. The very big ones—you noticed it most with the elephants—grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees.

Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

The scene I was privileged to observe today reminded me of the innocence of nature, prior to humanity’s disobedience. It also reminded me of the Messianic promises that restored “nature” will enable lions to lie in harmony beside sheep.

In his book Miracles, Lewis discusses this from the perspective of redemption, as contrasted with simply understanding it as a consequence of a “new” creation.

The doctrine of a universal redemption spreading outwards from the redemption of Man, mythological as it will seem to modern minds, is in reality far more philosophical than any theory which holds that God, having once entered Nature, should leave her, and leave her substantially unchanged, or that the glorification of one creature [humanity] could be realised without the glorification of the whole system.

God never undoes anything but evil, never does good to undo it again. The union between God and Nature in the Person of Christ admits no divorce. He will not go out of Nature again and she must be glorified in all ways which this miraculous union demands. When spring comes it “leaves no corner of the land untouched;” even a pebble dropped in a pond sends circles to the margin.

I said a prayer this evening that the Lord would bless that lovely doe and her precious offspring with long, healthy, safe, peaceful, and even, happy lives.