Wisdom, Breath, Word: In the Beginning…

In the beginning was the Word…

Thus begins many a sermon at Midnight Mass! In his famous prologue to his gospel, St John describes Christ as the Word of God which existed before all else came into being. And that this Word of God was the means and vehicle through which all that exists came into existence.

On its own, this may make little sense. But there is context. And comparison.

At the very beginning of Genesis, in words which John deliberately echoed, it is written:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a breath from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, 

And the rest, as they say, is history. Kind of.

The word ‘breath’ here is really important. To the ancient bible writers, the breath is the essence of life – and in a sense they’re not far wrong. We can do without our brains functioning, but without breath in our lungs, we cannot live. Perhaps that is part of the terror of Covid – that it impacts our very breath and ability to breathe, and it is spread through the breath also.

Breath is indeed the very stuff of life. It is what brings something to life.

But there is something more foundational than breath.

The thing that gives and creates the structure which the breath then animates.

On Thursday, I wrote about the need for foundations. They’re not pretty, as anyone who is close to a building site knows, but without them, nothing is likely to last long. They are essential for solidity, and the ability to last and endure.

The passage today from Proverbs is very interesting. The author is speaking of wisdom, and he personifies it. Wisdom is no longer abstract – it is a Being whose activity is central and (if I may) foundational to all else.

In Proverbs we read that

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.

at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.

Many biblical scholars have drawn a comparison between the Word of God, the Wisdom of God, and Jesus. All three are said to exist before all else came into being, and to have been the means which God used to bring all things into existence.

Interestingly, Wisdom is also the thing which is the continuing foundation of existence and reality – scientists might prefer to call this Wisdom the Laws of the Universe. Whatever you call it, it is the same thing. It is that without which all we consider to be solid and real falls apart.

Just as without Breath, the living being is no longer able to support a physical body and through death becomes Spirit once more.

Breath supports and is the foundation of physical life for all creatures.

Wisdom supports and is the foundation of “life” in its broadest sense of physical reality and existence.

And the biblical writers suggest and allude to the Christ (the Word) being synonymous with that foundation.

Perhaps this is easier to understand as we move away from the historical and literal man, Jesus, and move towards the cosmic understanding of Christ, towards which St John’s gospel points, and which is so clear in the letter to the Hebrews and in much of St Paul’s writings.

Whilst the man Jesus lived and breathed and walked this earth in Palestine some two millennia ago, the soul within that body was the Cosmic Christ. God in humanity united. And that Cosmic Christ is also throughout the Universe. We might imagine this force as the Breath and the sentience – or Wisdom – that energises it all.

And this is the Christ that is also within us – each one of us – asking for recognition and relationship.

This is the Christ who is, for me, the foundation of my faith and of my being. And it is through acknowledging this Presence as my Foundation that I can stop and realise my close and intimate connection to all else in existence – for we share that Foundation.

None of this is literal. This is a most unscientific way to explain existence. But if you replaced all this metaphor with the language of quantum physics and science, of quarks and protons and electrons and dark matter, I would like to dare to suggest that the basic conclusion would not be so far different. And for me, that is the beauty and wonder of it all. That far from being in opposition, science and faith simply use different languages to describe the same foundation to everything.

And perhaps in seeing and realising that, Wisdom may indeed be found.

With light and blessings,
Revd. Talisker

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