I have long been a fan of the platypus and I’m only now beginning to truly understand why. The platypus is a semi-aquatic animal, it lives neither fully in water or fully on land. It has a bill like a duck, but it is not a duck. It has a tail like a beaver, but it is not a beaver. It is classified as a mammal, but it lays eggs. It has fur, that is waterproof, and feet that are webbed, the webbing actually folds back when walking on land. They are usually nocturnal, but not always and they are one of the only mammals that use electroreception to locate their prey. And… it stores its fat in its tail. Incredible.
The very first descriptions and drawings of the platypus that were brought back to Europe were considered to be a hoax. Scientists thought that someone had sewn a beaver and duck together as a joke. Some have even said that the platypus is a sign that God has a sense of humour. I think of it as a sign that God, and all creation, is fabulous.
In Genesis chapter 1 we find one of the biblical accounts of creation and God’s naming of creation as good. Creation myths are sacred stories. I use the term myth intentionally since in religious studies a myth is a story that says something about the meaning of life and about our fundamental beliefs about the world. Myths are not about true facts, but instead carry truths that shape our worldview. And those who share this “in the beginning” narrative are certainly not the only ones with a creation myth.
At the time of the writing of our creation narrative, there were other narratives being shared by other cultures, one of the most relevant at the time was the Babylonian creation story called Enuma Elish. This epic lays out the foundation for the Babylonian worldview, just as the Genesis story laid the foundation for the people of Israel, even though it was written retrospectively. In fact if you read the Genesis story next to Enuma Elish it becomes clear that it is a counter-narrative.
I was first introduced to Enuma Elish and a number of other creation narratives when I was in public high school. My English teacher was fascinated by these tales and despite the rather conservative nature of our town, based a whole section of our curriculum on these texts, even having us write our own narratives. I must admit that I found the other narratives far more intriguing than the Genesis text with which I was very familiar by age 15.
Enuma Elish includes, among other things, a final epic battle between gods, Tiamat and Marduk. Marduk kills the goddess Tiamat and with half of her creates the sky and the other half the land. The blood of Tiamat’s second husband begets humankind who are destined to serve the Mesopotamian gods forever.
There are also the Greek myths involving Gaia, the creation of the Titans and the war between Zeus and Cronos. Here as well creation is rife with jealousy and confrontation. At one point Zeus, fearing that his child will be a god greater than he, swallows his wife, but because she was already pregnant with the goddess Athena, his child bursts forth from his head fully grown and ready for war.
While I found all these narratives fascinating, now I find myself grateful for a narrative free from capricious gods continually embroiled in war and whose only thought for humanity was basically slavery. Perhaps because I was steeped in the Genesis narrative, my own creation myth was far calmer than these. I don’t recall all that I wrote, but I believe the earth was born from the gentle uncurling of a hedgehog. My own study of Genesis, having taken place in Mennonite institutions usually included a considerable emphasis on the lack of violence in the Genesis narrative, which is one of the aspects that makes it strikingly different from Enuma Elish, along with the fact that Genesis involves only one God.
These myths including our creation narrative, are born out of our very natural desire to understand ourselves, to understand God and to make sense of the world in which we live. That is why we write them and pass them on. That is why and how they become part of our sacred story. The original writers of the Genesis story had some very particular reasons for putting pen to paper, or rather quill to parchment. As I’ve said, the Genesis narrative is a clear counter-narrative to Enuma Elish. It was written at a time when the people of Israel were trying to make sense of their identity as a distinct people in relation to other cultures. It was written by a people in relationship with God, inspired by that relationship, but also trying to make sense of that relationship. It was written by a people in a particular context.
We also read the narrative as people in a particular context. We live in a world that has evolved. And so we come to the text with our own new experiences, informed by our relationship with God, but also trying to make sense of that relationship. Each time we come to a text we are different people. And who we are when we read a text changes what we notice and how God speaks to us through the words. And in that process we are invited to find ourselves and God again and again even in the midst of ongoing change.
Most recently I was reminded of this when I was at a screening of the film “Belonging in the body: Transgender journeys of faith.” It was there that I had the opportunity to see the text through a transgender lens. I had often wondered what this text on creation means in a time when we recognize that we are more than simply male and female. And the thoughts shared by my transgender siblings opened a new door for me in reading our creation myth. They reminded me that we do not normally read God creating day and night as exclusive. Rather, we read those words as inclusive of all that lies in between.
And so this week I have sought to read the creation story for all that lies in between. Rather than holding onto words like day and night, land and water, male and female I have been noticing the repetition of words like “every,” “everything,” and “every kind.” And while at one point in history simply noticing that both male and female were mentioned seemed inclusive, now that’s simply not enough.
So this week I have imagined God creating not only day and night, but dawn and dusk, and that most awesome time just before dusk when the sun hangs heavy just over my dad’s canola field.
I have imagined God creating eagles that soar, but also the glorious ostrich, the emu with its green jewel-toned eggs, the flamboyant flamingo, and the dear and faithful chicken.
I have imagined God creating the fish of the sea, the hard yet soft, slippery yet velvety sting ray that I had a chance to pet a week ago at the aquarium, as well as the turtle who moves at an enviable pace and of course the platypus.
I have imagined God creating male and female, and trans, and intersex, and gender fluid, and non-binary. And I’ve prayed with the image of God creating each one of you in all your beautiful in-between-ness.
In truth, I think I encounter the in-between far more often than the discrete ends of the spectrum and I wonder if it is in the in-betweens that I find the most depth. Certainly when the sky is fully blue from one end to the other and the sun is high and bright, it is beautiful, but not more so than the moment when the rain slows and the clouds part and the sun is just beginning to shine again and droplets are clinging to everything and a rainbow emerges. The spark of God is in that space, hovering there between dark and light, rain and sun, bringing forth colours too beautiful for words.
This reading and imagining has been a gift for me over the past number of weeks. It reminds me that I can come to even very familiar biblical stories again and again and find new beginnings. It reminds me of the value of listening and learning from others in the created and creative community. It reminds me that as humans who often find ourselves in-between or in less than ideal spaces, we are still firmly planted in the created world that God named as good.
And yet, maybe in that in-between space you felt like you were not enough. Not enough beaver and not enough duck. Maybe not enough boy or man, not enough girl or woman. Not old enough, or young enough. Not fast enough or funny enough. Not qualified enough for your job or not competent enough as a parent. Not smart enough, or pretty enough, or tall enough, or athletic enough. Not Mennonite enough? I suspect that most if not all of us have felt somewhere in-between an imagined standard of what we “should” be, a standard that probably holds up the end of the spectrum as the ideal.
If this has been the case for you of late, I encourage you to pause and remember the incredible beauty of all that lies in-between; of all that is good and holy and sacred in everything. Read the creation narrative again. Read it with the lens you have right now, read it to encounter your identity in God. And I encourage you to remember the magnificent beauty of the platypus, or if you’re not into the platypus, perhaps dawn and dusk are more your thing. Do not forget that beauty, your beauty. God did not only create the day and the night, the bird and the fish, but all that lies in- between, all that is here and now, and all that has been and all of it was named as good. You are good and you belong in this world of glorious in-betweens. Amen.
*This blogpost has been adapted from a sermon that Carrie preached at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church on September 9, 2018.