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the beginning of the end
IN THE BEGINNING, God created the heavens and the earth.
Somethingness from nothingness.
Fullness from emptiness.
Presence from vacancy.
The great week of wonder had begun.
With Genesis chapter 1 open in my lap, I watch him cut the ribbon. I hear the shovel break ground at the new construction site, and I snap a mental picture of God in a hard hat, all smiles. He is about to blow our minds.
And he does, says Pastor Ed one Sunday, but pay closer attention to how. Creativity follows a distinct pattern that God put in place. Even in his hands, creation does not make the journey from wasteland to wonder in a blink. There are some subtle middle moments to consider.
First, he simply speaks the heavens and earth into existence. He does not call them good but instead, one breath later, describes the miracle of this new creation as formless, void, and empty, the Spirit still hovering over the deep. That seems like an odd declaration after such an accomplishment. Let there be earth! (Huh. Kinda void-ish.)
Creation is on a sure path to goodness, but now, even in the hands of the Creator, it is in process first. Still in chaos.
Next God clears his throat to address the darkness, whispering the name of its new counterpart ...
Let there be light.
Light slashing madly down the middle of the heavy dark drapes, scattering shards of thin black to the farthest corners of the universe. If any angels were brave enough to stay for the show, I suspect they had to turn away for parts of it, drawing in sharp breaths, dwelling in wide, worried silence. Heads shaking, wings tucked.
Light from darkness the first day. Astonishing. And still, no mention of "good." The heavens are seething with potential, but on this day, we are left again to confront that vague space that dangles between vision and completion.
It's how he set up the design process for every artist that would follow. The work of all creativity must first be subjected to agony and toil. It must be lingered over. It must languish. Picked up, turned around, set down. It must find order and stability. Every brushstroke and lyric and clay pot and arabesque and sonnet. Any moment, no matter how small, that seeks to reflect the Creator must travel this lonely predawn road. The Spirit must hover and hover over our deep darkness. That is, if it is to be called good.
Which perhaps is why so much "art" just isn't. There is no evidentiary trace of his likeness.
I consider these first few moments of creation: Heavens. Earth. Light. Darkness. It is not good yet. But it is there; it is ready. And something in me wants to stand up in the middle of the passage and yell, "STOP! STOP RIGHT THERE. Please God, don't feel obligated to see this thing through. Because in a few short days you will be sculpting the antelope's antlers and telling us how good it is. But we know how this week ends. And it's not good at all. So please, in your compassion, spare us this needless spiral into hopelessness."
But he doesn't stop. He is in love with potential. As he always has been.
I can't shake off my questions in the creation story. If God is God and knows all things past, present, and future ... if he already knew about the runaway train on the tracks ahead, why did he create at all? The most cynical part of me wants to call it the "Why bother?" story.
Why bother with every luminous shade of orange on the flimsy wing of a monarch if he knows how the story will end?
Did he know when he separated the sky from the water that we would find endless and creative ways to destroy both? Did he know then that we would dump jet fuel mid-flight? That we would send spaceships into his carefully ordered atmosphere and clutter it with debris? When he spoke the ozone layer into existence for our protection, did he know about hairspray in the eighties?
And when, with outstretched hands, he spoke the oceans and seas into place, did he know we would spill oil every where? That we would dump our toxic waste into the mouths of creatures great and small who call the water home?
If he knew, why fret over the number of starfish arms? (Six? No, five is best.)
When God called the dry ground "land," could he have known what we would do with it? The concrete we would pour? The mines we would gouge in our greedy hunt for riches until entire mountain ranges were stripped bare? The forests lost? The soil depleted? The fires set?
Did he know, that first week, how we would divide ourselves eventually? Claiming certain sections of dirt for our own tribes? Erecting borders? Inventing us and them? Like children scattered beneath a broken piñata, scrambling and shoving what we can into our pockets before running for the corners to count the loot?
This is our legacy with land. Did he know?
Then came the cucumbers and olives, wheat fields and peach trees. The day he created, with color and flavor, every good and nourishing thing, did he see on that day the jutting ribs of starvation? The bulging, gluttonous bellies hung heavy over elastic pants? Did he see us filling our bodies with matter but not with the nutrients he'd carefully engineered? Surely, had he known about pork rinds he never would have let us feed ourselves but would have built solar panels across our backs for energy instead.
The day he made the swift deer and gentle elephant, did he see poaching?
When he patched together the smooth scales of the alligator, did he see handbags?
Did he know about the circus?
Did he know his beautiful kingdom of creatures would become our collective lab rat?
I mean, really, why bother?
Could he have ever imagined, on the day he blew life into the nostrils of marvelous man, the crown of his creation, that we would so utterly destroy one another?
That our carefully painted shades of skin would barbarically entitle us to own each other? That a bloodline would spark genocide? That we would kill, maim, and extinguish and, to make matters more devastating, that we would often do it in his name?
"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do," a friend tells the incomparable Anne Lamott.
Did God stand in the garden, seconds away from breathing life into Adam, and try to push aside the inevitable thoughts of rape, suicide, sex slavery, abortion?
If he knew the ending, then why set even the beautiful beginnings of it in motion?
I believe he did know. He couldn't be God otherwise.
I don't think he began and then completed his whole work in a week and then, one rascally serpent and an apple later, had to come up with a redemptive ending on the fly. I don't think he was standing there in front of trembling Adam and Eve with his hand on his hip thinking, Well, howdaya like that? Figures.
Of course he knew we would toss a grenade into all that beauty.
As he swept across the surface of our new planet, paying close attention to the fox's tail and the cricket's legs and the buds on a rosebush, it was then that he seemed pleased with his work. This is when it was good. Not in the chaotic hovering nameless space but only once his hands had created life. Because God is life. And he caught a glimpse of his own reflection. And it was very, very good.
I wonder if, instead of feeling the weight of our inevitable and deplorable stewardship, he found glimpses of hope and purpose when he thought of us that first week.
He knew Adam would need to cover himself with leaves.
He knew Abraham would need stars to count and Joseph would need grain to share.
He knew Moses would need a rock to strike and a shepherd boy named David would need a few smaller stones. Ruth would need a field to harvest. We'd need lots of trees. To build an ark for animals. And an ark of the covenant. To build a manger. And a cross. And we would need some clouds. A pillar to follow in the desert wilderness.
Many more to scroll back for his return.
In all of these moments, the Creator held us like newborns and saw glimpses of himself. And though it is our capacity for utter darkness and destruction that leaves me wondering why he bothered, it is our capacity to reflect the perfection of his light and love that reveal why he did. Of course he bothered.
It was good then because he was good.
And it will be good always because love knows no other way to be.CHAPTER 2
adam and eve
how to kill a bird
I AM NOT a person who has debilitating phobias. You hear about people who encounter spiders or planes or large crowds of people and immediately start doing the backstroke through their own cold sweat. Not me. I might be a teeny bit claustrophobic but usually only around people who have bad breath and are close talkers. So I wouldn't call my one tiny little fear an actual phobia, but I will admit that I am not a bird lover. At all.
When I was little, I was not allowed to use the word hate. So ingrained was this rule that I still struggle to say it, even when I really mean it. My frustrated angry teenage moments felt totally neutered by my limited vocabulary. Slamming a door in your mother's face and screaming, "I seeeeriously detest your guts!" was less than cathartic. Hate packs a punch. So I'll stop short of saying I hate birds. I don't hate them. I just seeeeriously detest their little guts.
Birds are the last creatures I want to get near, much less aid in any way. I don't care if you are holding a cardboard Will Work for Seed sign on the exit ramp. I don't care if you need someone to take you to rehab or need lunch money or a letter of recommendation for college admission. If you are a bird, don't bother asking me for anything because I pretty much h-word you.
And this is coming from a bona fide animal lover. Truly. I've picked up more stray pets and made more LOST posters than you can imagine, but I would offer shelter to a wild, seething boar before some helpless, gawky pigeon.
In reflecting on this disdain I've felt through the years, I've concluded that it's not really a bird thing. It's a quick-movement thing. It's a flutteryness issue. If you can move faster than I can, if you can swoop or peck or dip and dive or flap flap flap, we can't be friends. The truth is, I'm just terrified of you. I guess the same is true for anything that darts or scurries. Squirrels, roaches, mice. I might have a little scurriphobia. Attention, small creatures of earth: slow down already!
I can trace the genesis of my flappy fear issues back to a time when I was broke and in real need of any extra work that was legal, so I accepted a bird-sitting gig for a friend of a friend who would be out of town for a few days. She just needed someone to house-sit Ivan the cockatoo. I assumed he needed a refill of his food and water dish and not much else.
The first day, I let myself in with the spare key, nodded to Ivan, secure in his cage, and plopped down on the couch to read no fewer than ten pages of instructions, a lot of them in CAPS. For instance ...
1. Ivan can easily sense fear. Your fear makes him fearful, which makes him aggressive. DO NOT SHOW FEAR.
2. When you are in the house, please let him out of the cage so he can fly around and exercise. You will know if he senses your fear if he starts to swoop down from the curtain rod toward your head. SILLY BIRD!
3. If you sense that he is going to be aggressive, just whistle a song. ANY SONG. And he will perch on your shoulder and settle down. Attached is a list of favorite songs....
4. DO NOT USE AEROSOL HAIRSPRAY when you are in the bathroom because he will probably be perched on your shoulder while you are fixing your hair, and it could KILL him.
The instruction manual went on like this for pages. Nay, days.
I will spare you the horrifying play by play. Let's just say Hitchcock would have felt like a poser in the scenes that followed. And let's also say I drank alone for the first time. And that I never really learned how to whistle as a child. Fill in the rest as you see fit.
All of this bird baggage from my past made last week even stranger. My bedroom has this one absurdly high window shaped like a half moon that sits over the balcony doors. I'm sure it has a proper window name, but I just call it "the uncleanable." This window can seduce afternoon sunlight so beautifully that I fall in love with my bedroom around 3:00 p.m. every day because it looks like Rapunzel has been washing the walls with her golden hair.
So I'm folding laundry around this time, when I hear and see a red-breasted robin bonk into the uncleanable, which is the worst sound ever, even if you h-word birds. The robin startled me but then disappeared. I assumed he had learned his lesson and moved on.
Bang. Bang! Tap. Flutter. Tap. Clunk. Flutter.
I started freaking out.
This seemed to continue for agonizing ages.
After every big bonk, the robin would fly off for a few minutes and regroup. I imagined a little bird trainer somewhere, giving him a quick shoulder massage and a towel smack on his rear. Get back in there, champ.
Flutter. Tap. Clunk.
I was beside myself.
Even for me and my bird hatred sensitivity, this was too painful. I couldn't understand the tenacity that sent him repeatedly trying to fly into a window that so clearly would never permit his entrance. Some switch of compassion flipped inside me. I started yelling and waving my arms like I was holding orange glow sticks on a tarmac. Go thaaaat way. Over theeere.
On it went.
I ran outside around the house, not caring who saw or heard. Yelling, trying to entice the robin with incentives that worked for my three-year-old. "Yoohooooo! I have Cheetos! Hey look, Robin, Santa!!!"
He would not be deterred. He was committed and convinced if he smacked into my window one more time, he would fly in freely. I was racked with guilt. If he continues, he dies. If he continues and does not die, then I will have to find a large can of aerosol hairspray and get down to business. Which made me wonder, why was I so panicked about saving a creature I didn't really want to save?
This went on every afternoon for days. I felt sick that I could not help this thing I loathed. Then my friend Jill, who is painfully adept at pointing out the obvious, said, "Dude. Same thing happened to me. Birds are really dumb. They just see their own reflection in the glass and try to fly toward it but get confused. Just hang something in front of the window so it stops seeing itself. Problemo solvo."
But before I could locate a ninety-foot ladder to hang anything up in front of the uncleanable, the clunking and fluttering abruptly ceased, and I realized, with great relief, that my robin had finally stopped trying to rendezvous with its own reflection and had moved on. And there was, once again, peace in the land.
Until I walked outside a few days later and realized he had indeed moved on ... to bird heaven. (Which I'm certain is nowhere near people heaven.) He looked so small and pitiful lying on his back on my balcony. While I was zipping up my hazmat suit preparing to dispose of him, I actually felt true sadness. Obviously there is a natural order to things and he would have died someday anyway, but it was how he died that made me so sad. He died of madness, I think. Fluttering and hovering in front of his reflection for days. Yearning to be with that other self. Never understanding the way reflective glass lies. And confuses. And distorts.
My run-in with the robin came as I was beginning to write songs for The Story, starting with a peek inside the humanity of Adam and Eve. Maybe because I was already in a fragile state due to the robin's demise, I felt tremendous sadness for them. And also a great deal of understanding, because I've always felt that original sin was not disobedience but misplaced desire.
What happened in the garden of Eden makes for such a weird tale. Fruit trees and talking snakes and shameful lies. It's so hard to really put myself there mentally because it almost feels like it was lifted out of Narnia. My imagination wanders. Did other animals talk too? When God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, did he really walk with them physically? Was he tall? And why, after God delivers his devastating verdict and punishment, does Adam only then name his wife? And why, especially, does he give her a name that means "life" in a moment that was essentially soul death? I'll spare you the countless other questions and save them for God when we meet.
Excerpted from Love Story by Nichole Nordeman. Copyright © 2012 Nichole Nordeman. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted April 11, 2014
I have purchased at least 5 copies of this book as gifts. I have sent it to friends as well as loved ones of friends to help them while they cope with life and death. This love story has helped them gain and inner peace and understanding of God's Love. This writer is very engaging with everyday life situations as she explains biblical situations and helps the reader get a better understanding of life's choices. Very easy reading and a wonderful addition to the music cd which is also available.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2013
I have always loved Nichole Nordeman. She writes such profound and honest lyrics set to beautiful music. She is, in my opinion, one of the best contemporary Christian artists today. This book is just as rich and moving as her music. Nichole writes powerfully but simply. Her writing is so easy to understand and relate to, and she is open and honest about her faith and her failures. I am pretty picky about devotional books (I think many are not deep enough), but I was extremely happy with this one. I got a lot out of it, and my relationship with the Lord has grown because of it. Read this book. You won't regret it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 14, 2013
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Posted July 5, 2014
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