“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 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” (Gen 1:1-2).
The opening lines to the Bible, the first two verses of Genesis immediately came to mind as I sat last night on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m on the Jersey shore for a few days, invited to give a talk at the nearby Franciscan parish and community center that is run and staffed by the friars of my province. It is a welcoming community and it was so nice to catch up with friar friends that I haven’t seen in months. This is high tourist season around here, which means that there are throngs of people from a panoply of locales all converging here to enjoy the sun and sand. By day it’s a very busy little vacation town, by night the beach is much more quiet.
The weather took a turn last evening as the sun set. What began as a sunny and warm afternoon ended as a land awaiting a thunderstorm. Expectantly, the ocean was crashing ashore forcefully and the wind that accompanied the waves was pretty fierce. This is much different from the experience of the Pacific I had last month when I was living at Old Mission Santa Barbara in California. The seas never seemed to pick up quite as powerfully. But last night’s waves and the steady breeze in my face reminded me of God’s continued presence in the world, the God we call Spirit.
What a lot of people might not realize about the opening lines of Genesis is the important imagery that is being presented to us in order for us to better appreciate the intimacy of God’s relationship and closeness to the Created Order. The Ruach (spirit) of God is the “wind,” as the NRSV and many other translations suggest in English, that sweeps over the face of the Earth. But the waters described on the face of the Earth are not the calm aquatic images our poetic imagination likely conjures. The Hebrew word is tohuwabohu — pure and utter chaos. It evokes not a tranquil mountain lake amid verdant forests, but the darkened context of a nighttime thunderstorm above the violent and unsettled Atlantic Ocean. The Ruach does not come in a wispy form, but bellows with the power of the Atlantic winds.
As the salty spray of the ocean hit my face, I was reminded of the embodiment of God’s love in Creation. It is, as thinkers like St. Bonaventure suggest, God’s overflowing love that serves as the source of creation. Creation is an act of God’s Love that doesn’t begin at some remote time in the past to be forgotten or cataloged, but remains an ongoing reality that we might today call evolution, and what St. Paul and the Book of Revelation call “making all things new.”
Sometimes it takes the familiarity of the coast and ocean at which you feel most at home (no offense, Pacific Ocean) to make you recall God’s continued presence in the world around us. How awesome that reality is. I hope that I am able to continue to appreciate Creation’s beauty during my short stay here. May you too, wherever you find yourself, be attentive to the way God’s Spirit continues to move about the face of the Earth, and above the tohuwabohu of our world and of our lives.