Creation: Rebirth of the Spirit
April 14, 2002
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the
earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the
deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And
God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that
the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night."
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to
separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated
the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it
was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and
there was morning, the second day.
And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to
one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called
the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas."
And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce
vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that
bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it
was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according
to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according
to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was
evening, and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to
separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to
mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the
expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God
made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the
lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set
them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern
the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And
God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was
morning, the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and
let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God
created the great sea creatures and every living, moving thing with
which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged
bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God
blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill
the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And
there was evening, and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according
to their kinds: livestock and creeping things and wild animals,
each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild
animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their
kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according
to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,
and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the
air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures
that move along the ground." So God created man in his own
image; in the image of God he created him, male and female he
created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful
and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the
fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature
that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every
seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree
that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to
all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the
creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the
breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was
so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there
was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their
vast array. On the seventh day God finished the work he had been
doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God
blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested
from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 1; 2:1-3)
And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
This morning I would like to offer you some thoughts from Swedenborg,
along with some of my own thoughts, about what the
Creation story means for us in our spiritual life.
It is a wonderful story to start the Bible with. In a book there
is often a preface, and the preface will tell you what the book is
going to tell you. They told us in school that when you write a
paper, first you tell them what you're going to tell them, then you
tell them, then you tell them what you told them. The Creation
story is God telling us what he's going to tell us in the whole
Bible. It is a summary of the entire Bible--which is really, Swedenborg
tells us, about our own spiritual growth. It's about our
process from the time we first start to awaken spiritually to the
time when we become angels in heaven. The Creation story is a
wonderful summary, in just a little over one chapter, of the whole
Bible story. So if you don't have time to read the whole Bible, at
least read the Creation story!
I'm hoping to give you a little enlightenment this morning
about what this story means in terms of our own growth toward
becoming angels. I'll go through each day, and tell you a little bit
about what Swedenborg said was the spiritual meaning of the
verses. There is more detail in the first chapter of Arcana Coelestia.
First of all, let's look at the creation story as a whole. Swedenborg
tells us that the first three days talk especially about the
growth of our mind: about our thinking, our understanding, and
our faith; and that the fourth through the sixth days speak especially
about the growth of our heart: about our love for God and
for one another. So this is a wonderful summary, and it is very
well organized to show us how we grow spiritually.
We start first by understanding. That's why God said, "Let
there be light." Before there is light, there is darkness and void. Swedenborg tells us that our first state, which is the state that
comes before our spiritual growth, is a state that starts from our
earliest childhood and continues until the time just before we
begin to consciously decide to grow spiritually--just before we
consciously invite the Lord into our life, and decide that we want
not just to be material beings, but spiritual beings.
That first state can last well into adulthood. There are people
who don't decide to have spirituality in their lives until they reach
thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years old. So this period of darkness can
last a long time. We may be very intelligent, but we are dark spiritually
in that we don't see that God is working in our spirit; we
don't see that there is a higher purpose to life.
When God says "Let there be light," that is our first realization
that there is something higher than this material realm that
we have been dealing with. There is light: there is deeper understanding.
Light is a universal symbol of truth. When we say, "I
see," we mean, "I understand." And the very beginning of our
spiritual growth is when the light dawns in our mind that there is
a higher purpose to life; that there is something more than this
material existence; that there is something more that we need to
look to, to go for, in our lives. "Let there be light." This is the
beginning of our spiritual growth.
"And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."
It is very significant that every day starts from evening and goes to
morning. This is how our spiritual growth happens. We start from
not understanding, from a state of darkness and obscurity, and
progress toward daytime: toward understanding and knowing
what our life is for, and what God wants for our life. We progress
from evening to morning at each stage of our spiritual growth. So "there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."
On the second day, everything begins to get cleared up. We
were rather confused about this "spiritual" thing before. But now
the Bible tells us that God created an "expanse" or dome, in the
heavens, to divide the waters from the waters. There are waters above the dome, which are the clouds, and waters below the
dome, which are all the waters on the earth.
Here we begin to realize that there is a spiritual truth that is
higher than all the material knowledge that we have. Maybe I'm
good at building things; maybe I'm good at figures; maybe I'm
good at preparing meals; maybe I'm good at raising children.
There are all different things we can be good at on this material
plane. The second day of creation is when we realize that there are
higher things. There is a higher truth, and it has everything to do
with how we care for one another, how we understand each other,
how we respect each other, how we love God, how we show God's
love to each other. These are the higher truths that we need to distinguish
from just being able to get along in this world.
We do need to be able to get along in this world; that's very
important. But as we begin to follow a spiritual path, we realize
that there are also higher truths that we need to follow--truths
that relate to God and heaven, and to our relationships with each
other. This is the second day: distinguishing the waters above the
expanse--spiritual truth--from the waters below the expanse--
all the material, worldly truth and knowledge that we need to get
along in this world. "And there was evening, and there was morning,
the second day."
After we realize that there is higher, spiritual truth, this is
when our mind begins to grow and blossom spiritually. On the
third day, God separates the waters (the ones below the expanse)
from the land, and lets the dry land appear. This is when the
plants can first begin to grow. They are the growing spiritual
awareness in our mind. First comes the tender herb, the grass. At
first we have a very sketchy idea of what this spiritual life is all
about. But soon there are shrubs, and then there are trees.
Trees are fixed principles for us to live by. Trees are the idea
that we should always guide our life by principles such as these:
We should love our neighbor just as we love ourselves; and whatever
we would like our neighbor (other people) do to us, we should do it to them. These are fixed principles of spiritual living
that grow up like strong trees, which we can then be sheltered and
guided by as we live our life. So by this time we are beginning to
develop a real understanding of what it means to live in a spiritual
way, and not just in a material way. "And there was evening, and
there was morning, the third day."
All of this, as I said, involves the development of our mind.
We are realizing that there is a higher life. We are distinguishing
between spiritual truth and material truth. We are beginning to
develop principles of spiritual living--and we are applying them.
On the third day, there are fruits that come from the trees; and the
fruits are the good deeds that we do for others.
Swedenborg says that up to this point, it's still a struggle (and
it continues to be a struggle) because up to this point, we still
think that we're doing these things by ourselves: that we're the
ones who understand, that we're the ones who love, that we're the
ones producing those fruits. And so, Swedenborg says, those fruits
are not really alive yet. The reason they're not alive yet is that all
goodness and truth really comes from the Lord--and as long as
we think it comes from ourselves, it is relatively dead because we
don't have a living relationship with the Lord so that we can feel
that everything good in us, all our love, all our truth, is God's; that
everything we know and everything we have is God's.
This is what begins to happen on the fourth day. It's a little
strange, isn't it, that God says "let there be light" on the first day,
but it's not until the fourth day that we get the creation of the sun
and the moon and the stars.
As a physical image, I like to picture it this way: up to the
fourth day, those waters above the expanse were pretty thick! In
other words, there was a thick cloud cover, and though the light
always was coming from God, we didn't realize it; we didn't see the
sun. But when we get to the fourth day, the clouds are clearing,
and we can see that everything good we have is actually coming
from God--and we begin to feel this in our heart.
This is the fourth day, when God creates the sun, which is our
love for the Lord and our recognition that God loves us in a living
way. And the moon, which shines at night. In our dark periods,
our times of difficulty, we have our faith, our knowledge that God
is there. Even if we can't feel God right now, we know God is there
for us. That is the moon, shining in the dark periods of our lives.
And he also created the stars: those fixed spiritual principles
that we use to guide our lives through the difficult times. For
example, if we are involved in some business dealing, previously
we may have been happy to cut corners a bit, and figure that
nobody would notice the difference. But at this particular point in
our life, we've decided we want to follow God. And yet God feels
distant right now; we're not really feeling God close to us. It's a
nighttime period. At that point, we may say, "Well, it wouldn't be
so bad if I went back to my old ways and did my business the way
I always used to do it."
But then we think about something that we read in the Bible
that said we shouldn't cheat our neighbor, that we should love our
neighbor as ourselves. And we realize, "Even though I'd like to do
this, my principles tell me that I shouldn't." So the stars guide us
through the night just as the stars guide sailors through the night
when otherwise they might go in the wrong direction. Those
principles that we have learned and have put in our "heavens"--in
our higher mind--guide us through the times when otherwise we
might weaken and do what we know we shouldn't do.
So God gives us the sun: in our better times we feel the love of
God in us, and that gives us life. And God also gives us the moon
and stars to guide us through our darker times. "And there was
evening, and there was morning, the fourth day."
Now we're beginning a living relationship with the Lord: really
feeling God in our life. This is the point at which living animals
start to come. On the fifth day, we have the animals that populate
the sky and the water: the birds flying in the air, and the fish
swimming in the sea. These are the first living, feeling thoughts of doing goodness that are coming, not just from believing that we
ought to, but from feeling in our heart that this is what we want to
do for other people. We care about people, and therefore we want
to do good for them from love.
These are the living creatures. The living creatures represent
our feelings, our loves--and these develop later on. After we've
gotten our mind more or less straightened out, then we develop
our heart. Then we begin to act from love. And this is the first
time that we can be said to be truly alive spiritually: when we
begin to act from love. The birds are our love for spiritual knowledge,
and the fish are our love for material knowledge.
One of the nice things about this is that in our church, we
don't believe that our spiritual life is separate from our outward,
everyday life. We believe that our spiritual life comes down into
our material life; and all of the knowledge that we had before
about how to get along in the world now comes alive from spiritual
motivations. Everything we learned before about how to run
our business, how to take care of our home, how to raise our
kids--all of these things now come alive spiritually. We do our
work, not just because it's what we have to do, but because we
want to love and serve one another. And all of the knowledge that
we gained before helps us to do that, and makes us effective as
people of God's kingdom working in this world. So our spiritual
and material knowledge work together to make us good and useful
people here on earth. "And there was evening, and there was
morning, the fifth day."
At last, on the sixth day, we have the warm-blooded animals:
all the land animals, and finally human beings. This are when we
really begin to do things from faith and love together. Not just
because we believe we ought to, but because we love to. We begin
to take joy in serving other people. We begin to like it when we
can do something for another person. We don't do it because of a
sense of obligation: "God says I have to do it, so I'd better do it."
That was before. Now it is: "I really enjoy doing what's good and right. This gives me happiness inside, and I have pleasure and
happiness from serving others."
These are the land animals, and finally the human beings.
This is when we become truly human. When we are acting from
faith, but especially from love in our hearts. When we're acting
because we care about other people and we love God. When we
get joy from serving one another. At this point, we finally reach
the seventh day. There is evening, and there is morning; and then
there is the seventh day.
What is it like when we are doing things and serving others
because we love them? There's no conflict in us anymore. We don't
have to say, "I'd really like to do that, but I'm going to do this anyway
because that's what God says." Everything now flows from
within. We do what we do because we love one another, we love
our work, we love God, and we're completely at peace inside of
ourselves. When it says "rest" in the Bible, it doesn't mean we
aren't doing anything; it means we have no conflict within us
about the things we are doing. It means that we do everything
because we love to do it and we know how to do it. We can be very
busy outwardly, doing all sorts of things, and yet be at perfect
peace inside of ourselves because this is the life that we love.
This is what the Lord holds out to us as true human life.
When all of our conflict on this earth is done; when we have gone
through our struggles; when we have, with the Lord's help,
reformed ourselves and grown into people who do good because
we love to, then we have the peace and rest of the seventh day.
This, of course, is the state that the angels live in. They do
good for one another. They live useful, busy, happy lives because
they all love one another, and they don't have to struggle and fight
about it anymore. They can simply do what they love to do.
This is the promise God gives each one of us if we are willing
to go through the struggles of the other days. And it is a promise
that we can feel little bits of here on earth, at the times when our
life is flowing along. We all get foretastes of heaven at the times when things are working out for us, and we are enjoying what
we're doing. This is the state the angels are in all the time.
And this is the promise God gives us: if we go through all of the
seven days of creation, we will be people who love one another, who
enjoy living in a good way, who understand what we need to know in
order to serve other people and serve God in the way that we love
best, and that fits our talents the most. This is the promise God gives
us. It is the promise of the seven days of creation. Amen.
O Creator of all the universe and of our own souls, we thank you
for your endlessly fertile love and wisdom, continually forming
new and intricately amazing creations, and renewing the face of
the earth. We thank you for your creation of new thoughts and
feelings within us each day, renewing our spirits and guiding us
always forward. Be with us, we pray, wherever we are in our own
seven days of creation. When we are without form and void, and
darkness reigns within us, pronounce once again the divine words,
“Let there be light.” Then let the light of your presence coax out
of the earth of our experience ever fuller manifestations of your
presence in us: tender grass, seed-bearing plants, fruit-bearing
trees, fish, birds, warm-blooded mammals, and finally the true
humanity of living in the image of your love and wisdom. Amen.
Rev. Lee Woofenden