Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘popol vuh’

Get Your Sabbath On

Genesis 1:26-2:4:  Down-to-Earth Resting

 Unplug the television
And make way for an old vision
Which will now be a new vision
Yes Headliner, lay the foundation
Dig your hands in the dirt
That’s right
Children play with earth

Gain knowledge of the big
But small earth around you
Dig your hands into the dirt
The dirt that made you
Get acquainted with the earth
The earth that eventually will take you
And the world that hopefully
Will appear to wake you

Children, play in the fields
Play in the grass, climb Mr. tree
Get to know each branch
Give it a name
For the branches resemble the many decisions
You will have to make in life

Eat of the earth children,grow an apple tree
Taste the apple, communicate
Watch and listen to the neglected mother of all
Short, tall children play with earth
Eat rhubarb wet from the rain
Beautiful fruits all the same
Pears, oranges and grapes from the vine
Children it is the earth’s time


One of my favorite hip hop groups of all time, Arrested Development.

The song, Children Play with Earth, is lyrically wonderful even as it is challenging. The earth is big and small; and it made us. The earth will eventually take us. It will also wake us. We should play in the fields, grass, and trees and give the branches names. We should plant in the earth so as to have food to eat of the earth. We are to watch and listen to the neglected mother of all—the earth.

We are in our third week of exploring the first creation story in Genesis. Today we read its conclusion: day 6 includes the creation of humankind, male and female, in the Creator’s image, blessed and given great responsibility to care for the earth, waters, animals, and all living things. Day 7 marks the moment when the Creator views all of creation and is pleased. Time for rest.

The last two days [or ages] of this creation story contain two very important words that we will unpack: adam and Sabbath. Now of course, in our English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see the word humankind for adam, and the word rest for Sabbath. Let’s start with this word adam, a word shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahai’s in the creation stories. In the Hebrew language, there are root words that consonants and vowels get added to in order to form variations of the root. ADM is the root word and is masculine. Words in Hebrew are like words in Spanish. They have masculine or feminine forms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are male and female. Is a chair female? No really. So ADM is a masculine root, but our word here in Genesis 1 is also used with adamah, the feminine derivation, which means earth.[1] So we get, in a nutshell, Hebrew wordplay which leads us to adam meaning humankind from the earth.

And with that, I’m reminded of a childhood memory. I was eight years old, I think. I received my first Bible; I still have it. In that Bible, there were pictures from time to time, along with the words. I particularly remember Genesis. Right away, the word adam is important, because as I learned about this story, I saw a picture of a man. His name was Adam. I assumed [as did the people who drew these pictures and strategically placed them there] that the creation of humankind was really the creation of this man named Adam. Capital A. So as an eight-year-old, I imagined this dude appearing out of nowhere. And he already had a first name, just no last name. Just call me…Adam, he would say.

Look! I’m hanging out with my monkey-friend, bananas! Capital b.

But that’s not really true, is it? Genesis1 doesn’t give us this detail. Instead, we get a generic word that means humankind from the earth. At this point, you may be thinking, Wait, I seem to remember that God formed Adam [capital A] out of the ground, and then this lady Eve out of his rib]. Tsk, tsk. You’re skipping ahead! We’re still in Genesis 1, remember? Adam as a proper name is not in this story. Human life [both male and female], is created by Elohim [God], in Elohim’s image, and that means male and female. And they don’t have names, these humans. They are told to have kids and grow their population. So these are the first humans [plural] and there are lots more of them, eventually. And this is before we get to the proper names—before some dude named Adam and some lady named Eve. My Bible was wrong, or at least it assumed too much.

Why the specifics of this? Well, the Semitic people [a general term to describe the ancients of the Middle East] were used to playing with the earth, digging their hands in the dirt. They were people of nature—in tune with it and certainly respectful of it. Their worldview was akin to the ancients of the Americas, who also honored the natural world and believed that they were created from it and would eventually return to it. The Mayans, for example, in their creation story the Popul Vuh, specifically state that the humans were created from the mixture of corn and water, called atole. Corn of the earth + water from the sky = human beings.[2]

La Creacion, Diego Rivera, 1931

So the story establishes for us that not only are the birds, fish, animals, trees, waters, skies, and land good—not only are human beings good—but the relationship between them all is good. I’ve heard a lot in my lifetime about this concept of having dominion over the whole earth—that somehow as human beings we are given free reign to do whatever we want to the natural order. After all, aren’t we meant to rule over it? Many take this to mean that animals come last. The environment is not our problem. The oceans are for our use anyway, so we can throw our trash in them without feeling guilty. This of course is the problem when we read the Bible like a bumper sticker. The entire rest of the creation stories [and the Bible itself, for that matter] make it clear that dominion over the earth and its creatures means great responsibility on the part of human beings to care for creation so that all living things can fulfill their Creator-given purpose. Having dominion means caring for, allowing the natural order to thrive, to see creation as good, just like God did.

So why do we avoid this challenge? Why do we so often abuse the creation so graciously shared with us? I say it’s because we forget about adam with a lowercase a, we forget where we come from and where we will all eventually go. We neglect the earth, sky, and waters and all the good creations within them, because we only think about ourselves. We forget who we are. In fact, it’s almost like after the 6th day, after humans are made, we end the creation story. Done. Time to move on. I have things to do, places to go, money to make, stress, a full calendar, and no time for creation caring. And then we’re disconnected from it all. We’re not connected to where we come from. We don’t dig our hands in the dirt; we don’t play with the good earth. We’re too overscheduled and busy to care.

But there is another day in the Genesis 1 story, a seventh. The Creator looks over all that has been made and is pretty pleased with it. It’s all good. And it’s time to rest. So we’re to our second word in Hebrew, Shabbat/shavat. In English, we translate this as Sabbath. Here in Genesis 1, it is very loosely translated as rest. I say loosely, because Shabbat, in the Genesis 1 context, is probably better translated as cease or end. The Creator, Elohim, ceases to create, at least for the moment. It all looks good from the Creator’s viewpoint. It’s not like the Creator was tired or fed up with making things. It was time to end. One cycle, one age, was completed. A new one begins.

Of course, Sabbath for many Christians is a laughable subject, really. Take me, for example. Is Sunday supposedly my Sabbath? Since I can remember, Sundays have always been full, full days of classes, worship services, practices, meetings and events. Rest? Ending? Closure? HA! Not a chance! Of course, I’m no martyr here. There are many [besides ministers] who work a lot on Sundays. Or Saturdays. You see, we’ve lost the concept of Sabbath. It’s not a day to sit in a pew or fulfill some religious obligation. It’s not a time to schedule things. Sabbath is unplugging, gaining new perspective, closing and opening; Sabbath is set apart as sacred. Sabbath is a moment to hit the reset button so we remember who we are: all of us people of the earth, created in God’s image, good and blessed, connected to each other, meant to care for the earth, its creatures—meant to care for each other. Sabbath is a time for reawakening.

I believe in Sabbath. I know that when I’m done with my Sunday responsibilities, when the door closes behind me in my house, when the phones are not answered, and I have Monday in front of me—Sabbath begins. As Hebrews 4:10 states, I enter God’s rest. Sabbath is communion with our Creator, a reminder about the image we are made in. And my Sabbath connects me, not just to the earth, waters, and animals—but to my brothers and sisters around the world. My Muslim brother prays in his car five times a day when we works in the city and finds wholeness and peace; my Jewish colleague makes amazing food to share with others and lingers a long, long time at the table counting his blessings; my atheist friend hikes a trail and smiles at the beauty of trees around her. Our Sabbath connects us. We don’t need to run to sanctuaries, meetings, and events. They are not Sabbath. Instead, we feel the rhythm of life around us and in us—all created good by our Creator.

And we realize together that everyone—EVERYONE—is a good creation, deserving of food, of water, of land, and of Sabbath. And we claim the responsibility to care for the creation and to care for the people of the world. We don’t do it because we want to get something out of it; we don’t do it because we feel power; we care because we come from the earth—all of us. And we all our God-images—all of us. And we all deserve Sabbath—all of us.

And so I challenge you and myself to dig our hands in the dirt. I challenge you to recognize where you come from. I challenge you to stand up for others who are denied their good humanity and to help those who are denied their right to Sabbath in their lives. But in order to be who you were made to be, you are going to have to experience Sabbath in your own lives. Living Sabbath, being human, is about joy and thankfulness. It’s about relationship with the merciful, loving Creator. It’s about forgiving and being forgiven; it’s about justice that costs us something; it’s about love without strings; it’s about recognizing that everyone’s full humanity includes God’s creative work.

Get acquainted with the earth–

the earth that eventually will take you

and the world that hopefully will appear

to wake you.


[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] Popul Vuh.


In the Beginning….

Genesis 1:1-13 NRSV

 The Ginormous Story

VIDEO: Children of Eden

Let there be

Let there be

Let there be…light

I woke up from a curious dream
I dreamed a perfect garden
And there were whirling shapes
And swirling sounds
And I wasn’t lonely anymore

I woke up from a wonderful dream
Woke, full of energy and hunger
And now this hunger will be stilled
And my emptiness be filled
As I set about to build
My dream

Let there be, let there be morning
Let there be evening, day
Let there be, Let there be waters, weathers, winters, wonders
Let there be land and Speeding comets with hearts of ice!
Spinning planets with rings of fire!
Cosmic sparks and quasars and quarks
And suns convulsing
Pulsars pulsing
Let there be Whales! Snails! Sharks! Larks!
Apples trees with dappled barks!
And granite mountains and flaxen plains
Giant lizards with tiny brains
Flourescent fish and crescent worms
And a million bugs and trillion germs

Let there be
Let there be
Let there be

You just saw a performance of Children Of Eden, a musical based on the Genesis stories of scripture, book by John Caird of Les Miserables fame, and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, known also for Godspell and Wicked. This particular live staging is from the 2011 production of the Actors Charitable Theatre in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Children of Eden tackles one of the most known [and misunderstood] stories of scripture. Creation. Creator. Sky, water, land. Plants. Animals. People. How do we make sense of it all? Creation stories are huge in every culture of the world and certainly this particular creation story is not the only one. For example, in the Americas, the most well-known creation story that is truly American is the Popul Vuh, the Mayan story; in English, the Book of Counsel or Community. The Popol Vuh was found in the Guatemalan Highlands, somewhere around 1550. Its significance looms large because it is the main surviving Mesoamerican creation document; the others were destroyed during the various conquests. The Popol Vuh’s story focuses on the creation of all in nature, including human beings who eventually are made out of corn. Popul Vuh continues with the adventures of the twin gods, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.[1] Here is an excerpt:

This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm, in silence; all motionless, still, and the expanse of the sky was empty. This is the first account, the first narrative. There was neither man, nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses, nor forests; there was only the sky.  The surface of the earth had not appeared. There was only the calm sea and the great expanse of the sky. There was nothing brought together, nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which might move, or tremble, or could make noise in the sky. There was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed.

There was only immobility and silence in the darkness, in the night. Only the Creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers,* were in the water surrounded with light.[2]

For the next month or so, we will be focusing on stories—creation stories from sacred texts, but also the stories of our lives. While we explore the two creation stories in the book of Genesis, we journey alongside the children in our faith formation class, who are learning about the same stories. It is appropriate, too, that a week from now, Sept. 16-18, our Jewish brothers and sisters will be celebrating Rosh Hashana. This festival is the Jewish New Year celebration that commemorates the creation of the world. Jews pray and reflect on their sins against God or against their fellow human beings. Of course, there is food, special teaching and worship, and the Shofar–ram’s horn—an instrument blown to symbolize an awakening from spiritual slumber. Rosh Hashanah is a time to emphasize the special relationship between God and humanity. So it is appropriate for us to be exploring Genesis during this time; after all, Genesis [bresheit in Hebrew] is one of the five books of Moses called the Torah [or Pentateuch]. Remember too that the word “torah” can also be used to refer to the entire Jewish bible (the body of scripture known to non-Jews like us as the Old Testament and to Jews as the Tanakh or Written Torah). Torah can also mean, very broadly, the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.[3] As we look at the Genesis creation stories, remember that these stories are shared. Christians, Jews, and Muslims draw from the same stories—though we often write and speak in different languages.

Of course, there are a million different directions in which to go with this first Genesis creation story. Right of the bat, let me say something. We’re often tempted to turn Genesis into a science vs. religion argument. This debate is distracting, because surely we cannot compare the days of creation in Genesis 1 or the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 &3 to the theory of evolution. Do we really expect this road to lead us to real answers? Instead, we must all keep in mind that the Genesis stories are small parts of a larger story—just like our daily stories are part of the great-big story of our lives. In fact, as I mentioned before, the word Torah is used to describe different parts of one big thing. So Genesis is not just about chapters 1-3, but about the whole, ginormous story. Let us look at the creation stories as scenes in a larger act of a dramatic play. There are characters. There are sets. There are lighting schemes, entrances and exits, symbols, and props. And someone wrote it!

Who did write these creation stories? In traditional Judaism and Christianity, the Pentateuch [five books] is considered a faithful and exact record of the word of G-d to the prophet, Moses. On the other hand, there are many who believe that various authors at various times put together these stories in Genesis. This is known as the Documentary Hypothesis or JPED. Honestly, I don’t have time in a sermon to explain this. But let’s just say that there are many perspectives about Genesis authorship—debates that go on and on. Of course, archeological discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls open up even more debate about the Bible. I think we miss the point though, if we focus only on the author[s] of Genesis. Any great story that we cherish surely has an author or authors. But it is the story itself that we cherish. So it is with Genesis and any sacred text. The story is sacred to us and to Jews and Muslims alike, because faith plays a part in it. People of faith believe that God is in the story, that God is the main character who loves humankind and is active in their lives. There is no room for hate, exclusion, or separation in such a story of hope, beauty, and divine spark. Who wrote it–Important perhaps–but a question that probably won’t be answered to our satisfaction.

And anyway, Genesis isn’t trying to bombard us with details to figure out. Much is actually hidden in the story—yet to be revealed and written—without periods and exclamation points, but instead, a story with commas and three dots in a row. Even the start of Genesis 1:1 is mysterious. In the beginning is actually the title of this writing. There is no date set for when everything started. Was it a big bang or a cosmic collision of stars? These things are not important in the story. What is important is that Elohim [God] was…darkness was…then Creator began creating…plants, animals, sky, land, water…harmony…and above all—light! These words and phrases at the start of Act 1 are important. They are setting the stage; they are dramatic, beautiful, and mysterious. And they reflect upon us a hopeful, wonderful idea—that this Elohim-Creator can break through darkness, chaos, and emptiness. This Creator wants light to happen, to reveal, to shine, and to be…good. In these first few words of the great-big-story, we discover a bit about the personality of this Creator, to be revealed more and more. This Creator enjoys creating. This Creator thinks light is pretty special. This Creator judges all that is made as good.

Honestly, though, most of us have skipped ahead in the story. We know that this Creator kept on creating. We know that the story keeps moving forward to human beings. The story continues on in Exodus. We hear the story of Moses and the Israelites. They struggle, but this Creator goes before, with, and after them. They journey. They develop a relationship with this Creator. They love and are loved; they walk in darkness and find light. And then, as Christians, we skip ahead to places like the Gospel of John, re-telling and re-interpreting this story with: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.[4] The story gets personal. We start to see hope in this Creator. Life and light shining even in all of our darkness? A Creator’s light and love that can overcome all of the emptiness and fear inside us–this is good!

And that is part of our story, isn’t it? For we all have stories of pain, sadness, joy, hope, despair, light, and darkness. Some of us tell ongoing stories without periods and mostly commas–how we are still overcoming darkness. Sometimes we tell stories of addiction. Sometimes we tell stories of broken relationships, of times when we felt that we were completely alone. At moments, our stories are joyful: we finish school; we find a life partner who loves us; we forgive and are forgiven. Our stories often include births and deaths, tragedies and triumphs. And all these little, daily stories are part of a ginormous one.

Friends, I believe that the creation story is best experienced as part of our own personal story—not as a black-and-white description of what really “happened” billions of years ago. I think that if we experience it personally, then we have the opportunity to experience re-creation and renewal in ourselves, alongside Jews, Muslims, and all who share this planet. For we all have stories to share and to tell. Our stories remind us of our common values and humanity, our common questions, our common love, hope, and need for community. And this creation story reminds us that the Creator is interested in love, in light, and in all that is good. This should move us to see our neighbors around us as good creations; this should move us to care for trees, and plants, and animals. This should move us to love.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson puts it this way:

The first story we are given is of a God who cannot bear to be alone. A God who is driven by love to create a world of flowering and cascading diversity in which nothing is precisely like what came before it; in which each new creature is delightfully fresh and novel; in which God, thrilled by each new creation, says: This is good. God cannot be God if God cannot love.[5]

And so, good creations of God that you are—tell your stories. Listen to someone else’s story. And may love and light be the threads that weave our stories together. Amen.

[2] Popol Vuh: Part I, Chapter 1

[3] The Book of the Torah, Mann, Thomas.

[4] John 1:1-5, NRSV.

[5] Shavit Artson, Bradley, The Bible is a Book of Inclusion and Love.

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