Phillip James Bailey, an English poet of the late 19th century, once said: “Let each man think himself an act of God; his mind a thought; his life, a breath of God; and let each try, by great thoughts and good deeds to show the most of heaven he hath in him.”
One of the amazing revelations of the Orthodox Christian Faith is the high dignity humanity has in this wondrous creation. We humans, uniquely empowered by grace, to have an actual relationship with the Uncreated, are called to such a dignity BECAUSE of our origin – the Breath of God Himself!
Look at our lesson today in Genesis 2:4-19. We won’t read the whole pericope, but I hope you take the time later!
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up — for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground — then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This second recapitulation of the Creation of Humanity is Moses way of emphasising the purpose of Genesis in the first place. Genesis is a story, a true story, of the creation of Humanity. It is only the creation of humanity that is repeated three times in the first three chapters of Genesis. It’s done for emphasis, so that we humans will grasp what we are made of, for, and by!
We are made OF this creation. God took our flesh from His earth. We are made of the stuff of creation, not separate from creation. And this is because we were created to be the caretakers of creation. We were meant to feel deeply our connection to this earth and to our shared responsibility for this earth. And it is in learning our stewardship of this creation, our characters are shaped in such a way that we resemble our Creator. This is our home. Our willingness to care for our home and cherish, value, and be grateful for our home works a spiritual treasure within us!
We are made FOR communion. God creates humanity in His Image. Moses sets the tone for the rest of Genesis by focusing primarily on the creation of Humanity. The rest of the creation story is relegated to footnote status or merely a place made so that Humanity can BE there. But make no mistake, Genesis is about Humanity! And this Humanity is uniquely gifted to be in communion with each other and our Creator. What feeds and fosters communion is good; what breaks and interrupts communion leads to death.
We are made BY God Himself. Notice how God first forms our body from this creation, then God does something unique for His Humanity: He breathes into our nostrils “the breath of life.” This means that we humans are living breaths of God. This dignity of God sharing His breath with us sets us up for an amazing possibility – we can embrace our dignity and grow up into being “like” God or we can squander our potential and descend into death.
God provides for His Humanity and sets two trees in the Garden for His Humanity, but God asks His Humanity one labor before all others; to fast! Don’t eat this. But His Humanity failed to fast in the Garden, so now we are called to do what our first parents failed to do; fast so that we will strengthen our hearts to choose wisely instead of consuming His creation without gratitude, honor, or a sense of responsibility for His creation.
Today, as we enter the arena of Great Lent, we are once again, lovingly and hopefully, offered another moment first offered to Adam and Eve. And once again, life hangs in the balance. Once again, we are offered the wisdom of being Orthodox on Purpose!
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