Everybody Needs a Creation Story

For mental security, you have to know whence you came. In the disintegration of shame, in the free fall of self-worth, in the evaporation of self-confidence, there must be some kind of backstop, a place past which you can descend no further. Beyond the backstop is the abyss, a word used in ancient scripture for pre-creation (Gen 1:2). The backstop is thus creation itself and to make it real and “sensible,” you must have a story around it. Creation is a big deal, so your story must be grand.

The Creation of Adam (detail) – Michelangelo, c. 1512

Here is my creation story. I rely heavily on it.

My creation story is an appropriation from, and an expression of, my chosen spiritual tradition, which shares its basic outline (the philosophia perennis) with the mystical branches of most of the world’s enduring religions. Starting from Aristotle and continuing through Thomas Aquinas, I believe in the “ultimate source, first cause or unoriginated origin,” which has many names or no name, but which I will simply call “God.” God is infinite and ultimate. From these qualities we can distill the more practical values of goodness, truth and beauty.

God is abundant and overflowing. God wants to express Godself. The known and unknown universe is God’s self-expression. God speaks and creation happens, not just once but in every moment. Some call this God’s Word (Jn 1:1-3), but perhaps “encyclopedia” is also a useful term, because the universe covers all that God wants to say. Just on this planet we are amazed by the plenitude of flora and fauna. Occasionally there is a news story about some new creature discovered at some remote location. Another entry in God’s encyclopedia.

jelly-fish

 

Not just forms and species have entries in the big book. Every instance of every species has a separate entry. God’s expression has a different nuance in this jellyfish versus that jellyfish versus the one that lived a million years ago. And so it is with human beings.

Who are you? You are a unique expression of God. What God has to say in and through the totality of you has never been said before, is not being said elsewhere, and will never be said again. Even the human embryo that spontaneously aborts before the mother even knows she is pregnant was a unique, once-and-for-always piece of God’s self-expression. All of this, seen and unseen. And yet, the world is finite; the universe is finite; neither will ever fully express the infinite God.

Everybody’s default creation story is their family of origin – mom, dad, siblings, whoever your early caregivers were. The trouble with this story is that it is at best, wounding and at worst, toxic. We are all wounded by our families because they, like all people, are wounded themselves. In more severe cases, the wounding amounts to developmental trauma and chronic shame, causing significant personality and relationship issues in adulthood. How can you hold yourself together if your mother always tore you down or your father abused you?

Interestingly, adopted children, even those in best-case families, eventually want to know about their biological parents. They have an unshakable sense that a foundational chapter in their creation stories is missing.

The causality of how I got here obviously runs, in part, through my mother and my father. Maybe my “self” would not have existed without them and the random events that brought them together. They are my “entry point into history.” However, God was clearly going to express “me,” one way or another. God is intentional. Thus, I am not primarily my mother’s son or my father’s son, and my children are ultimately not all about me. The greater truth is that my father is my brother and my daughter is my sister, all gazing back to the One who speaks (more specifically, loves) us into existence.

“God does not love you because you are good. You are good because God loves you.” God, the infinite source of goodness, is the necessary and sufficient condition for your goodness. Contra Descartes, it is not “I think, therefore I am.” It is “God loves me, therefore I am.” This is what is means to be “created in the image of God.” If God doesn’t love you, you are not going to hell; you never existed in the first place.

A unique image of God, like a facet of an infinitely cut diamond, is your True Self – who you really are. We spend our lifetimes trying to buy into this ultimate reality. Our False Self, which is not bad (more like sad), seems to be both the means and the obstacle to our self-realization. We wrestle and struggle with it. Sometimes it feels like we are losing (the False Self feels more real). Compassion and mercy are always needed to cope with the low points. The question of your goodness, your worthiness, however, is a fake question if you have an adequate creation story.

 

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Radical Marriage: Anyone Will Do (in theory)

What is the point of working on my marriage if my partner isn’t doing likewise? Doesn’t it take two people to make a relationship work? Should I bother to seek individual counsel and direction?

Two-Men-Courting-Girls-Favor-no-logo

Two Men Courting Girl’s Favor, Norman Rockwell, 1917

Remember that you create half of the relationship. Anything that you do better, in either giving or receiving, can only improve the situation. Of course, you cannot arrive at a consummate marriage, a reciprocal union, from only one side. But you can move towards it. Your healthy human needs will not be adequately addressed by your stagnant partner. (This is a problem that needs a separate discussion.)   But you can grow in wisdom and love and partially reshape a relationship that will then look and feel different to both of you. Your personal growth continually renews and updates the invitation to your partner to join you in a dialogue of eros.

The soul purpose of life is to grow in capacity to love. Philosophy and psychology alone will not get you there. Love is too big of a mystery to tackle in the abstract. A bottom-up approach is needed. Start with an example, not a concept. Perhaps this soulful purpose adds to the basic desire for romantic coupling. Grow to love this specific, flawed, frustrating, infuriating, ordinary person in front of you. If you can love any one particular person unconditionally, unrestrictedly, unreservedly, then you can love anybody. Then you will know a greater love than connects all things. Ironically, what seems like an individual, one-sided endeavor actually helps you participate in something even more inclusive than your marriage. So, yes, working on “relationship issues” by yourself is still worthwhile.

In this sense, it does not absolutely matter who that specific person is. The beauty and the suffering of marriage is that any person, fully revealed, is difficult to love. Some are more difficult than others, of course, and we all might prefer a shallower learning curve. Since perfect love is not attainable and all are equally worthy of love, you are ultimately tackling the same project with whomever you choose; it just has a different shape. And it’s the same project no matter how many times you choose.