And on the eighth day, I finally published my blog.
This has been a stressful week, and I’ve already spent almost two hours today just formatting and copying everything I’ve written into this blog. Welcome to In Excelsis Deo.
I’m already tired and the day has just begun. I’m looking at the very few flimsy pages of the Bible that I’ve covered and it makes my head hurt. Such a long book…
But I shouldn’t complain. I’m ready to do this. I’d better be! I’ll be doing this for the next three years and then some.
I’m feeling better overall, getting a sense of style down. Life outside of my writing is going well; I’m getting a handle on my work and my schedule, and I’ll even have some time to see some friends today. I’ve been doing some reading and perhaps soon I can work on one of my old writing projects, a novella that I never finished. We’ll see when I have time for that, but my passion for writing seems to be flaring once again.
And now on to my task:
The first thing I did today was re-read Genesis 7. I was so distracted yesterday that I barely read the whole thing, and I remembered very little. But today is about Genesis 8, which I also read. After reading it, I went and looked up the Matthew Henry commentary. I finally looked up who he is, too. Matthew Henry was a Presbyterian minister who lived 300 years ago, roughly. June 22, of this year, 2014, will be the 300th anniversary of his death. I will be… somewhere in Exodus at that point, by my reckoning.
So anyway, here we are in Genesis 8. God shuts off the water and lets everything start draining out. Remember that bit about Hebrew mythology? Waters and firmaments and all that.
The ark rests “on the mountains of Ararat.” I just realized that this sounded familiar, and in the computer game Diablo II, in its expansion, there is a sacred mountain known as “Arreat.” I have a feeling this is less than a coincidence; the game incorporates a good deal of Judeo-Christian influence.
So the ark rests, the waters begin to recede, and Noah sends out two birds: a raven and a dove. Now, a raven is black (typically associated with darkness and sin) and a dove is white (typically associated with purity and light). The raven does not return, but the dove does. Mr. Henry posits that the raven represents the sinner, who is satisfied with the world. He suggests that the raven survived by “feeding on the carcasses that floated.” ¹ The dove, however, represents the person who keeps God in their heart and is not satisfied with the world. The dove returns to the ark, having found no satisfaction in the outside world. I like this.
In a lot of ways, it bothers me when people say that they want more than this world, or they’re meant for something more. I understand, they’re speaking of a spiritual realm, a higher realm, but as long as you inhabit a human body, you may as well deal with it. One does not need to indulge in sin; there is much joy and happiness and love to be had in this mere physical realm. There are mountains and flowers and trees and amazing works of art and beauty, both created by man and otherwise. Every time we experience awe, in my opinion, we are feeling what some call the Holy Spirit. We are touching on the realm of God.
It is a “good thing” to study the Bible and to hold to one’s morals and values, to refrain from sin and to be like the dove, returning to the metaphorical ark that God gives us. But even the dove returns with an olive branch. Even the pure dove finds something of value in the world. We are human, we are mortal, and we are sinners. But God knows this, and He speaks to us in a language we can understand. He speaks to us in a language of the world.
It is not a language of words but of feelings and experiences. It is a language written in the winds and waters, in the land and trees and stars. It is a language which speaks nothing but beauty and truth. It is all around us, always being spoken, always being told to us through our sight and sound and smell.
For some reason, I am almost brought to tears right now by the idea of the smell of fresh baked bread, by the idea of a cool breeze as I stand atop a mountain, by the idea of the color and scent of a beautiful flower. Stop and think. Stop for a moment and really enjoy something. Really take the time to hear things, to see things, not as little flits of something darting to-and-fro in our vision and fading fast from memory, but as a real thing of beauty. Some study or some scientist once said that most of the time we only see the “idea” of color. Our eyes send a signal to our brains and our brains save energy by matching the image up with things we already know. But the word “blue” does nothing to tell you about the beauty of the sky. It tells you nothing of the vast, incomprehensible depth of the ocean.
The language of the world speaks to us. God speaks to us. Always.
I was a little worried about five or ten minutes ago because I don’t want this blog to just be a parrot of Matthew Henry’s exhaustive commentary. I have to find my own voice and I have to remember to interpret these chapters and verses as they mean something to me. I can observe that by reading Genesis 8:14 we can learn that the waters covered the earth for one year and ten days. I can quote and cite the verses all day long. But the Bible is very readable, and Matthew Henry’s words are very accessible. No one needs me to tell them things that they can find elsewhere; no one needs me to share words that have already been written.
My voice is coming, and every day I write this I learn something new and my voice grows stronger. I wasn’t that excited about the flood story but now I am. I understand it a little better with Mr. Henry’s commentary and I find it appropriate for me today. Henry says, “The same hand that brings the desolation, must bring the deliverance.” God is always present, and through Him we find out difficulties and our solutions. But the flood did not recede in a day. Everything takes time, and we must have patience. We must get comfortable on our arks, and learn to enjoy life on the sea.
And when the waters of our troubles recede, we must not forget to give thanks, as Noah does. The first thing he does when he comes out is to build an altar to the Lord, and make an offering. God is with is in the good and the bad. He is not a conductor, orchestrating our ills and blessings in a traditional sense, as humans would understand. It seems more to me that God is the Language of the World, and the Language of the World is God. Every breath, every beat of our tiny human hearts, every movement of our dust-speck bodies, _____ God. There’s a verb there that I’m missing. It doesn’t exist in English and I’m not sure it exists in any language on earth. The closest word I can think of is one I’d forgotten: “grok.” Everything we do groks God.
“Grok” is impossible to define in English and probably in any human language. It can be felt and understood but not well defined. It is from the book Stranger in a Strange Land, and how appropriate that title seems to me now as I sit here, half-dazed and half-hypnotized, lost in some religious reverie, sitting at a desk with an open Bible. In the book, the word comes from the Martian language. It means “to love,” “to hate,” and many other things, but it mostly means “to drink.” Water is sacred to the Martians in the story, and indeed many spiritual traditions on earth, both old and new, revere the power of water. By drinking with another person, we share of ourselves, we bond. Humans do this whether we realize it or not: we make toasts and then immediately drink. We celebrate by drinking.
I hate leaving that above sentence unfinished because it was about to flow really well and be very beautiful, but it is better this way. I was originally looking for a preposition. I was going to say “is with,” or “is aligned with” or “connects with,” but none of those things work. I needed a word that combines separateness and oneness, that combines understanding with accepting and becoming. I needed a word that describes connection and unity while implying that nothing was ever disconnected in the first place. Grok is a beautiful word and an even more beautiful concept.
I’m glad I remembered it. Scratch that. Somewhere, somehow, I can feel God smiling. I know that today was my day to remember this, and that through this task, He made it possible. He is with us and through us.
At the end of Genesis 8, in verse 22, God tells Noah… wait, no, God tells Himself,
“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
Somehow, this a perfect way to wrap everything up today. The day and night, the change of seasons, the movement of the sun, moon, and stars… we can look at these things and see God’s presence. It is possible to look at these things and see natural laws and celestial mathematics, but even these are truths, part of the Language of the World. As I sit at this desk, the whole world is engaged in a beautiful dance with the universe. All the worlds and stars in the heavens dance to a silent song that echoes through the outer spheres and resonates in the hearts of men. There, within the chambers of the heart, vibrating in the confines of men’s souls… it is there you will find the power, the Being that we call God.