Take Your Place in the Family of Things: Two Stories of Creation

Two stories of creation appear in the Book of Genesis. In the first story, in Genesis 1, the world is created in six days, and man and woman are created after the heaven and earth, the stars, plants and animals:

And God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them; and God said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ And God said: ‘Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed–to you it shall be for food; and to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is a living soul, [I have given] every green herb for food.’ And it was so.

Man and woman are created equal in the image of God: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” The word “Man” (Adam in Hebrew) refers to male and female, and to all human beings. Man’s role is to procreate and to rule the earth. Nature is defined as subservient to man: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.”

The second story of creation appears in Genesis 2. This is a different creation story. The creation of man is intimate. God creates man from clay and breathes life into him: “Then the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

In the second story of creation, man is created in order to work the land: “No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.” God places man in the Garden of Eden and commands him to keep it “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Unlike the First Adam who is the earth’s owner, the Second Adam is nature’s keeper.

The Second Adam is created alone. The animals, and later Eve, are created to alleviate his loneliness: “And the LORD God said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” Eve, Adam’s mate, is created from his rib. That is, Adam has to sacrifice a piece of himself in order to find his soul mate, and loneliness is deeply rooted within him.

The Wild Geese are Heading Home

During a long period of time the relationship between man and nature was a relationship of dominion; man saw himself as the master of nature, the ruler of natural resources that are meant for his use. Recently there is a growing awareness of the extent to which this attitude is devastating, and the extent to which man’s exploitation of nature is destructive. The attitude of “dress it and keep it” that appears in Genesis 2 is a more humble approach that sees man as part of nature, as keeper of the world.

In light of man’s existential loneliness in Genesis 2, the poet Mary Oliver describes man as a possible partner in the family of nature. Relinquishing the position of dominion invites man to become an equal partner in “the family of things,” to find his/her place in nature, to intertwine with creation.

Winslow Homer, Wild Geese in Flight (1897)

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
   ~ Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Feature photo: Birds at Full Moon, by Ohara Koson

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