As the Year of Faith got launched, Melanie Bettinelli of The Wine Dark Sea undertook the ambitious project of enlisting various writers to take on single, separate lines of the Creed, and create a series that focuses on these lines throughout the year.
When I learned that “born of the Father, before all ages” was unclaimed, I happily nabbed it — it is my favorite line.
So far, Melanie’s writers have hit home-runs with their lines — these writers have all been splendid, instructive, humble and wise. This weekend, as we pray through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and begin the Second Week of Advent, you might want to take the time to read through and catch up:
And latest (and least-est) Born of the Father before all Ages by me.
Unfortunately all the really great reading ends there, because I bring the least coherent thoughts to the party.
It’s not that I didn’t try, but while I’ve loved the line for the past year we’ve been saying it — it tripped off my tongue so nimbly the very first time that I wondered if I’d said it in my youth, during that transitional time of upheaval and translation — when I sat down to really think and pray over it, I realized that any understanding I could find was a) wholly instinctive and visceral, precluding language and b) tied up with other things.
“Born of the Father before all ages. . .” brings me to Genesis, but also to the opening to John’s Gospel. This is not terribly surprising; as I have written in the past (precisely 6 years ago):
In Advent, I keep thinking about the Incarnation, and about all the Intention that resides in creation, the Intention that is, in fact, necessary to creation.
If one goes back to the first lines of Genesis and to the first lines of John’s Gospel we see the same images – emptiness, a Word, movement – and it is natural to think that Christ’s birth is a reflection of the whole “big bang” of Creation – the first one made the world and everything in it, the second returned it to its origins, wedded in covenant. …
Yeah, and when I wasn’t thinking of that, or of 1 Colossians, or Psalm 110 (“…from the womb before the dawn I begot you.”) I was thinking about nothing, and about how “nothing” is impossible with God, and only possible without God, as I finally wrote for Melanie:
It’s another beloved bit of scripture — words I often recite to myself in times of stress, to remind myself that I, and my life, are puny things — but these are words full of shiny things that pull my synapses in too many different directions. I want to talk about that first part — the Word being with God; that sounds like the ticket! But as usual, I find myself carried off by those last words: without him, nothing came to be.
On the one hand, they seem so obvious: Without a creator there is no creation. But then, taken another way: “without him ‘Nothing’…came to be.”
Considered that way, it’s a whole plunge into questions of voids and darkness. There could never have been “nothing.” God was always there, right? And God fills everything, down to the molecules and atoms which — if they stop moving, it’s all over.
So there can only be “nothing” where God is not.
Where God is not, is where “nothing” comes into being. And this can only be a spiritual thing — a spiritual state of nothing — an active willing-away from God that opens up to nothingness and the Being of Nothingness, who is the evil one.
I dwelt on “nothing” for a while — it is a fascinating concept. While I did not include this in my musings for Melanie, I kept remembering pinning my mother’s First Communion pin to her dress as she lay in her coffin (something she’d been telling me to do all my life) and being shocked at how cold her body was, and not just her body, but even the air immediately above her body. I had waved my hand above remains and felt the coolness, wondering at the complete absence of energy; even the box in which she lay was cold. In Chinese medicine they say “chi moves with the blood” separate from it but moving with it. When the chi is depleted the blood stops moving; there is no energy. There is nothing. The physical state of nothingness is cold. Even if the atoms are somehow whirring, there is nothing. And if the physical state of nothing is cold, what is the spiritual state?
You see? There I go again! This line of the creed is too full, too rich, too deep, too mysterious. I would love to plumb its depths but fear I would never emerge. The line just leads to wonder and then to wondering, and then to more wondering.
Which is not a bad thing. As Gregory of Nyssa said, “only wonder leads to knowing.” But the workday does intrude…
So, I fell back on the old, “well…it’s a mystery…”
But I believe it is a mystery we instinctively know — we intuit it. We simply know a great deal of that mystery and its truth, which is why we pass over it in murmured, often absent-minded, prayer and move forward.
And that is where I hopefully bring us with this piece. Forward, to the next line, to the next place God wants us; where he is.
Thanks to Melanie for the invitation to join in on this exercise. I apologize for my meager efforts. Do avail yourself of all the previous essays. You’ll be glad!
As for me, I have never been a pot-smoker, but I am convinced that one need not smoke pot; one can get the same, “whoa, man…that’s like…I have the whole answer to the world” effect by just pondering this one line, daily. Without the munchies.