Turtle Island – Good Creation Stories

A very very long time ago at the very beginnings of all time, the world was totally covered in water.  There was no land and the animals swam in the sea looking in vain for somewhere to build their home.  

One by one the animals swam down to the very bottom of the sea to find land.  Each one grabbed a pawful of muddy soil.  But when they brought the soil back to the surface the soil just sank back to the bottom of the sea again.

Eventually a muskrat, the bravest and most courageous of all animals, swam to the bottom of the sea, came back to the surface with a pawful of muddy soil and placed the soil gently on the shell of a turtle.  The soil took hold and spread.  Plants and trees and flowers grew in the soil.  Animals made their home in the soil and in the foliage – and gradually a whole continent was born on the back of the turtle –  Turtle Island.

That is,  – of course, just a story. 

It is a Creation stories, passed down from elder to elder in the First Nations peoples of Canada and North America – the Algonquin, the Mohawk,  …  the Haudenosaunee. 

 ..  and you can choose to dismiss their story, their wisdom, as childish, or naive – if you like   – 

because  obviously we do not live on the back of a turtle ….  no ….   we live on concrete.   .. layers and layers of hard concrete that kills everything beneath it, but at least it makes the ground solid and stable for our roads, our houses and our buildings. 

But what if they are right and we are wrong.   Because we do not actually live on concrete – we have merely covered every living thing up with concrete –  we live on the back of a living, moving, changing, created thing – the world – a whole planet 4,000 miles deep – teeming with life, with water with fire, molten rock, movement and volatility …. 

 the back of a turtle is a much better image for this moving earth than a dead lump of rock in outer-space.  

Turtle island reminds us that the land beneath us is – in its own way – alive. 

The Bible has a different story about creation.   It doesn’t use the usual legends from Ancient Middle East.

 In the old Babylonian story – for example – the God Marduk cuts his enemy Tiamat into two pieces and makes heaven and earth out of the two parts of her carcass.  Marduk stretches her skin over the heavens to prevent the waters from escaping upwards from the sea, then he organizes the stars, the moon, the sun, day, and night, and from various parts of Tiamat’s dead body, he creates clouds, winds, mists, mountains, and earth.

But the Bible story in the Book of Genesis is different:    God reigns over a watery chaos.  – what the Hebrew calls  ‘tohu wa Bohu’  – a wild phrase we still cannot translate …  ‘formless and empty’ our boring Bible translations say –  or  is it ‘astonishingly desolate’  or ‘Confused and destructive’.  Then gradually God creates order out of this formless, astonishing, confused chaos.

 God makes night and day,  then the sky and the dry land, then plants and trees,  stars and fish and birds, animals and then eventually on the sixth day, God creates a human being ..  not a man, because Adam is both male and female in the image of God. 

Genesis tells us that creation is not something that happened once – billions of years ago – but it is something that happens every day, every second of every day as God creates order and life and meaning out of chaos, and death and meaninglessness.

And so –  once a year on Harvest Sunday – our readings remind us that first of all – perhaps not just one Sunday a year but eveyr day –  we should be thankful for the gift of creation.

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Secondly – once a year on Harvest Sunday – our readings remind us that God is always holding us and all creation in loving care – every day, every second.

God is good; and God’s mercy is everlasting; God’s  faithfulness endures from age to age

Thirdly Harvest reminds us that seed and growth,  the yearly cycle, life and death are not something to be frightened of, but something to celebrate –  God’s creation – both individually and eternally

Use your sickle and reap the harvest, because the time has come; the earth is ripe for the harvest

Fourthly  Harvest reminds us that all things, our life, our creation, everything are all gifts from God – there is nothing we have, no earthly blessing which is not God’s gift to us.  

I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven

In the words of the old hymn :

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;

then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.

And God saw that it was good

Before God created the Sun, Genesis tells us that God created the light.  How can that be?  What is this light which does not come from the sun?  What is this light which is created before the sun and the moon and the stars – and which separates day from night?   How can that be?

The great Jewish commenator Rashi in the 11th century writes that this light ‘is the light of righteousness that will be planted in the soul of every living being who desires goodness. And the moment God declares this light to be good, then there is a separation between light and darkness. There is a separation between those who seek light will seek to live in light and those who choose darkness, and will live in darkness.’

Harvest is a time to see creation and to repeat God’s words  ‘ it is good’  ..  and to choose the light.

The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington