by Dell Blair
How is it that a dark and formless void ends up as a holy and glorious paradise? How can something so empty become completely whole? What is the recipe? And what is our personal role in bringing it about? Is there a map? If so where is the big red ‘YOU ARE HERE’ mark on it?
A thought experiment:
Consider the task of drawing a map of something that is dark, empty and formless. You are standing at the easel in your studio staring at an blank surface thinking: what lines do I start with? What information do I have to reference? How do I do this?
Any line or dot or brush stroke you make will establish a kind of form. So how do you proceed? Since the reference doesn’t look like anything, how do you represent it as something? What form can represent the idea of formlessness?
By the very act of your starting out the emptiness begins to fill and the formless begins to take form.
So this is what you do … you just dive in.
A Rabbi friend tells me about Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) and his teachings on what is called ‘Hitbodedut’. As I understand it, is a scream into the void or the universe or the unknown. This is what Moses is said to have done as he turned again to Egypt having been commanded by the voice of God to do so even though Moses had been banished and his life would be at risk if he returned.
It is also what the children of Israel did as they gathered in their tents (tabernacles) as they prepared to leave their 400 year bondage in Egypt and head into the wilderness to make their way home. This is celebrated even now with the feast of the tabernacles (Sukkot).
You remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and the people laid palm branches before him and shouted “Hosannah.” That was a ‘sukkot’ celebration.
When it was suggested that Jesus silence the crowd,
(Luke 19:40) …He answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.
So there is the scream again. The earth itself would do the shouting if it were not for the cries of the people. And we know that this triumphal entrance will soon lead to Gethsemane and the crown of thorns and Golgotha and the cross and the tomb. Jesus will not leave Jerusalem again. Can you sense that this entrance too is a kind of dive into darkness?
We hear a kind of hitbodedut in Isaiah 40 “the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” and in many of our hymns: “How long we have wandered as strangers in sin and cried in the desert for thee.” (Redeemer of Israel) We’ll sing and we’ll shout with the armies of heaven. (The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning). So what is it we are crying and shouting about? What else can you do when you are teetering on the edge?
In verse two of the first chapter of Genesis before the creator speaks a word, He goes swimming (my interpretation) and following that comes His first utterance: “Let there be light!” So He dives into the empty void and moves upon the face of the deep. It makes me smile and wonder if he screamed or shouted as he made his leap through the empty darkness into the deep. I would not have been able to hold it back.
But now the emptiness is not empty. Now the formless has a form. God is there.
So back to the question: How does our world go from a dark and formless void to glorious and holy paradise? And more personally how do we go from where we are now to where we want to be? How do we go from our own emptiness to wholeness? Are there rules? Is there a map? If so, where is the big red mark that says, “YOU ARE HERE?”
A young man scurries up to the coach during a time out. He spits out his mouth guard and stares at the coach begging: “Coach oh coach let me play. I’ve got my helmet on, my shoulder pads on tight. I know the plays. I can block. I can tackle, I can hold the ball so tight no one can pull it from my grasp. Come on coach put me in the game.”
The coach rests his hand on the lad’s shoulder pads, looks into his eyes with a smile and says, “Kid, this is a volley ball game.”
Our word ‘gospel’ is of Germanic origin and even though modern German uses the word ‘Evangelium’ to translate it my amusement stirs to think of a possible alternative translation: ‘Gottes Spiel’ (God’s game). His playing field, His boundaries, His timing, His rules and his game plan. We have to be prepared for the right game.
Do you remember Jacob the son of Isaac while he was on his way back to his homeland with his family? He worried that his twin Esau might still be upset with him and try to fight. So he sends gifts and his whole family on ahead to soften his heart. And while he is by himself that night someone comes and wrestles with him?
Genesis 32 has the details but my curiosity wants to know how he explained what happened to his family. What must Rachel and the rest of his family have thought? They see Jacob, their husband and father in the distance limping toward them in obviously great pain as the sun warms the horizon. As he nears they see that he is bruised and caked with mud and grass. His tattered clothes are sweaty, and stained with blood. His hair is a ratted and dusty… and yet he is smiling. Don’t you imagine that the whole family would have dropped their jaws and whatever they were carrying in their hands and stared at him?
Jacob: What are you all staring at?
Rachel: Look at you. You are a mess. What happened?
Jacob: Yea well I got a blessing from God
Rachel: A blessing? You call that a blessing?
Jacob: Well … there was a kind of a struggle.
Rachel: What’s wrong with your leg?
Jacob: Oh my thigh is out of joint.
Rachel: You dislocated your thigh? Must have been some blessing.
Jacob: Yea it was a pretty intense.
Rachel: What exactly was the blessing?
Jacob: He gave me a new name, Israel.
Rachel: Who gave you the name?
Jacob: God did.
Rachel: You were wrestling with God? And what is Israel supposed to mean?
Jacob: Let God prevail or he who prevails with God.
Rachel: And how am I supposed to make sense of that?
Jacob: He chose me. I made the team. We made the team and so did our posterity.
Rachel: So … um … what are the rules of the game? How do we score points? How do we win?
Jacob: Hummm … good question … guess we’ll have to figure that one out.
Doctrine and Covenants 45:
9 And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.
So is that what the gospel is? The map, the rules, the plans that show the way from emptiness to wholeness? Is that how we know how to play the game and score points and win?
We sometimes call it the plan of happiness or the plan of salvation or the plan of holiness. In all cases it is about going from an empty formless void to a holy and perfect paradise … but it is not just about the Earth.
We have religious and cultural traditions which declare that a city or a mountain or a shrine is a holy place. Some have a gradation of the measure of holiness from the most holy to not holy at all I suppose. So the question is: Is there a grain of sand or a spec of dust or a particle of matter that God created which is not holy? Does it not all have the same purpose? Perhaps I’m missing something.
The etymology suggests that the word ‘holy’ comes from the same source as wholeness and healing. So to ask how we become holy is related to how we heal and how we become whole.
If the plan is for the earth to ultimately receive its paradisaical glory and to become (Revelations 15:2) a sea of glass then what is our role? Can’t that be done without us? What purpose would it have? So we look again at the map and see that it is not so much about geography or history or things. It is about us. Without us the rest of creation would be wasted.
What would Zion be if there were no inhabitants? If it were just impressive buildings and streets and geography but no society of what value would it be? A ghost town? An archaeological site? What does wholeness or holiness mean without us? We are the ones His work and glory is about.
We as individuals are whole. That is the meaning of individual. We lose our wholeness if we are divided or broken. We have to heal to become whole again. Even so we are not as whole as we can be as individuals. The biological totality (wholeness) is a husband and wife. Without a spouse we are whole as individuals but a marriage is a wholeness of two wholenesses since each is whole unto him or herself. A family is a wholeness of yet a different order and a community, a kingdom, and a nation is yet a higher order of wholeness. So when Christ speaks of healing the nations, it could be a healing that extends to the uttermost ends of the earth.
So what is our role in becoming whole, and being healed and becoming holy?
When the pressures of the latter days push against God’s order of wholeness and holiness which began when the spirit of God first moved upon the face of the deep. When all things are in commotion and chaos abounds. When there are wars and rumors of wars and the love of men waxes cold. When you feel like screaming into the void and it seems impossible to figure out what is going on and where we should go and what we should do. Be comforted that this turbulence is also on the map and part of the plan and that these things are in fact the big red mark which says “YOU ARE HERE” and the final destination is close at hand.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Dell Blair is a a curriculum designer and illustrator.