In today’s excerpt from The Way of Jesus Christ we hop into a discussion Moltmann is having about creation, and specifically Genesis 1:2 (“The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters”):
The Hebrew word rahaph is generally translated ‘hover’ or ‘brood’. But according to Deut. 32:11 and Jer. 23:9 it has rather the meaning of vibrating, quivering, moving and exciting. If this is correct, then we should not think only of the image of a fluttering or brooding dove. We should think of the fundamental resonances of music out of which sounds and rhythms emerge. In thinking about ‘creation through the Word’, we should not therefore think primarily in metaphors of command and obedience. A better image is the song of creation. The Word names, differentiates and appraises. But the breath is the same in all the words, and binds the words together. So the Creator differentiates his creatures through his creative Word and joins them through his Spirit, who is the sustainer of all his words. In the quickening breath and through the form-giving word, the Creator sings out his creatures in the sounds and rhythms in which he has his joy and his good pleasure. That is why there is something like a cosmic liturgy and music of the spheres.
Sleeps a song in every thing
That is dreaming still unheard.
And the world begins to sing
If you find the magic word.*
I recently finished reading Out of the Silent Planet, the first in C.S. Lewis’ science fiction trilogy, in which the main character, Ransom, meets otherworldly creatures who are described as having not vocal chords and lungs but resonances. This may be why Moltmann’s description of the Spirit seems particularly poignant to me this week, but I do find it to be a lovely and true-feeling image. I confess I never did envisage creation as a dove flitting about; I picture it more like a whirl, or a big rumble from the deep. Whatever the case, if there is to be a sound connected with it, (and what is a good story without an equally good soundtrack?) I’m quite happy with the idea of resonance and vibration. I suppose that’s because in my estimation the story of creation is to be for us something like a good opening chapter in which we find ourselves captivated by the story. It’s to be a song that beckons us to keep listening. It’s a story in which some magic word that holds all of reality and being and goodness together is hiding, sleeping even, waiting to be discovered.
I confess I will never quite understand why so many people have made Genesis about facts and charts and arguments. Why one would choose to do that rather than to be taken away with the song of creation, the cosmic liturgy, the music of the spheres, is beyond me. As Moltmann said, this isn’t a story of God barking out commands. I imagine you could make a good chart out of that. It’s a story of the Word breathing out a resonance that is God’s joy and good pleasure. It’s not something to prove. It’s something to experience.
*poem by Joseph Von Eichendorff