What We Are Made Of

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, March 2, 2014

Genesis 2:4-8 KJV

The second creation story in Genesis is one of the most beautiful, and best-known, and most anthropomorphic passages in the Bible.  As a piece of ancient literature, it is quite poetic and unsurpassed.  This particular writer—which some biblical scholars identify as the J or Yahwist Source—portrays God (more so than any other writer) as being hands-on and present in Creation and in dealings with man and woman and the natural world.  This particular story conjures up a picture of a wise, grandfatherly, figure of a man kneeling in the dust to make some clay from which were fashioned the first man and woman.  As poetic and imaginative as that might be, we realize that the story is religious myth, not meant to be taken literally, but a story which was meant to convey a much deeper meaning. 

When it comes to religious myths, you know, they are bearers of great and important religious truths; but they are truths that lie much deeper than the surface reading or literal interpretation of the story.  So what are the deeper religious truths at the heart of this beautiful Creation story that conjures up the image of the Creator God kneeling in the dust of the Earth to fashion human beings?

For me, one deeper religious truth in the Yahwist’s creation story is this: there is that of God or the Sacred or Divine in the long process of creation.  But when I say that, I am not referring to “Creation Science” or “Creationism.”  I am not saying I perceive God in anthropomorphic terms; that is, a Being that created with his hands the universe.   I am not even suggesting a Creator Being apart from Creation itself, although many do.  I am merely suggesting that there is some presence or action of that which is Sacred or Divine—call it the “God Particle, if you will—in that marvelous and mysterious process of creation.  It can almost come down to semantics and how one interrupts the idea of God, whether God is some Being or Power outside of Creation, or that Power or Energy inherent within Creation, or both.  But for me, there is that which is Sacred or Divine in the process of creation.

A second deeper religious truth I find in the Yahwist’s creation story is we are “earthlings,” in that, compositionally speaking, we are, indeed, made from the dust of the earth.  “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7).  We have to admit that the ancient writer got the dust part right.  “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19), is the solemn reminder the same writer gives in the next chapter of Genesis.  The Ash Wednesday prayer (which is this coming week, by the way) from the Anglican Prayer Book goes, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  Upon death, we will eventually return to and be absorbed by the earth.  All those periodic table elements that made our human bodies what they are will over time be recycled to become grass and flowers and trees and creatures of the field.  We are earth dust, and to earth dust we will return.

A third religious truth I find in this Yahwist’s creation story is we are intricately connected with every aspect of Creation; indeed, the entire universe.  Continuing the thought from my last point, there is the constant recycling process inherent in Creation.  Minerals and earthly elements that flow through us at one time flowed through other men and women, plants and animals.  The H2O atoms that make up water that we drink have been drunk and flowed through many others before us.  Perhaps the atoms that constitute the water we drink were drunk by the dinosaurs millions of years ago.  We are much more connected with the universe than we can ever imagine that we were!  As put by poet Mary Oliver, “I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and chances are one.  The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family;” (Winter Hours).

But when we think about being made from the dust of the earth, and being intricately connected with all creation, it leads to another question: Where did the dust of the Earth come from?  Where did the matter that makes up the Earth originate?  Now here is another exciting thought that sort of takes you back the first time you hear it.  Or at least, it was that way with me.  Scientists tell us that the dust we are made of is actually stardust; that that which makes up the substance of the Earth was once the substance of a star or stars!  As writer Michael Dowd puts it, “everything we tangibly experience—including our own bodies—is, in truth, transformed stardust. . . .  a team of scientists discovered in 1957 this astonishing fact: without the death of stars, there would be no planets and no life.”1  Such a thought can boggle one’s mind.   And so, what it all boils down to is the same energy, the same power, that once was at work in the stars is now present and at work within us!  Each of us has, in a manner of speaking, Star Power.  If we would but only realize it and tap into it!

Mary Oliver writes in another place,

“I wonder about

the mystery

that is surely up there

in starry space

and how some part of me

will go there at last.”  (“What the Body Says”)

So, one of the rites of passage that all of us must pass through (if we live long enough) is to come to grips with the fact that we originate from the universe, and in the end we will return to the universe.  Native American mystic Black Elk said, “The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes from within the souls of men and women when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the Universe and all its powers.”

There is another poem that I have used at graveside services, and you probably have heard it before too:

Do not stand at my grave and weep–

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle Autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there.  I do not sleep.  Anonymous

It seems to me that when we can mentally, emotionally, and spiritually arrive at that place of acceptance in our lives that we are Earth dust which originated in the stars, and to Earth dust we will return, but in a way of perpetuity, we will have reached an important milestone in our human sojourn on this earth.  Maybe—just maybe—such is at least part of what that ancient Ash Wednesday prayer (“dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return”) seeks to teach us.  Star dust we were way back when.  And star dust we may again become in some far off millennium.

But in the meantime—today—let us realize and exert the Star Power—the stellar energy—that lies within us to help make a positive difference in the world, to help make the world a better place.  Because right now, today is all we have.  Amen.

 

1Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution. New York: Viking, 2007.  Pp. 14, 95.

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About randykhammer

Minister and writer
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