For thousands of years, all around the world, the many different religions and spiritual traditions have written their own creation stories or myths. Jews and Christians have Adam and Eve in Genesis. The ancient Babylonians had the battle of Marduk and Tiamat in “Enuma Elish,” written in about 2,500 BCE. Japanese creation stories tie the creation of the Earth and humanity tightly to the creation of the islands of Japan.
The oldest creation myths we know date back to the time people first started to write – a strong indication of how important these stories were to ancient peoples. They probably existed in oral traditions long before writing.
The most ancient one for which we have records dates to 3,000 to 4,000 BCE and comes from Summaria, an area that is now the Middle East. The Goddess Nammu – the primeval Sea – gave birth to heaven and earth as a unified cosmic mountain. Heaven was male and called An; Earth was female and called Ki. Together they created the air god, Enlil, who separated them so that creation could move forward.
Why were these stories created? And why do we keep telling them today, even those of us who understand that they aren’t supposed to be a scientific explanation of what really happened?
To the first question, myth expert David Leeming, writing in the Encyclopedia of Creation Myths, calls creation myths “a projection of an aspect of a culture’s soul, its sense of its sacred past and significant relationship with the deeper powers of the surrounding world and universe.”
Most Creation myths were written before science had developed enough to explain the origin of matter, light, Earth, life, animals, plants, men and women. But even now, with a sophisticated and exciting understanding of how our Universe has developed and evolved, creation myths can still serve, in Leeming’s words, as “a metaphor for an ultimate reality that transcends science.”
So if we were to start right now, from scratch, and write a creation story that projects an aspect of 21st Century culture, a sense of our sacred past and a significant relationship with whatever deeper powers we believe exist, what would we write?
That was the question that bugged me in 1997, just after my mother died at 94 years old. I was dealing with endings. But once you start down that path, you have to back up and deal with beginnings. What comes next is just one of the bookends. What came before is just as mysterious. Life begins, and it seems to end, but does it? And if not, where does it go? That does seem to circle back – to the beginning.
So much like my husband and I had done when our children were little and we sat down and talked about the core of what we really wanted them to know and believe, I tried to put together a coherent view of creation and eternity. In a very few words, embracing a Creator but also evolution, celebrating diversity and joy.
I wrote the text in a journal that I had been keeping for several years. It starts:
“Once, long ago,
… there was One Spirit.
It was all that existed. It had always existed.
And One Spirit was bored. Always turning on itself.
Spinning in an egg-shaped sphere. But bored by sameness.”
The text goes on from there, for a total of a mere 275 words, but I don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all of it. You may guess where it is going from some of the images here, all taken from the book that developed.
In my mind, I always saw a book illustrating all the wonderful things that happened after One Spirit decided to do something about being bored. A few years after I wrote the text, we received a Christmas card that my sister-in-law, Jane Gaunt, had painted. When I saw it I knew it was the art that would make the One Spirit’s story – and ours – come alive.
We started collaborating by email and snail mail – 2,000 miles separated us – and gradually the book, One Spirit: A Creation Story for the 21st Century was born. We will revisit One Spirit’s text and images from time to time in this blog because it is as much tied to the concept of God Swimming in God as is In the Same Breath.
As this blog goes on, I hope to be able to include and discuss some of your creation stories as well as get your ideas on mine. How would you describe that beginning? What would be the path from then to now? And what comes next?
If you want to get a peek at more of the amazing images in One Spirit, check out our website. Some images from In the Same Breath, created by illustrator Christine Tobias are also there. You will see that we also have a One Spirit DVD with meditation guides and an overview of many of the other creation stories through the ages. More about that later.
You can post your creation ideas here or send them to me at gswimg at earthlink dot net.