“The first thing, O man, you have to venerate, is the age of the waters in that their substance is ancient; the second, their dignity, in that they were the seat of the Divine Spirit, more pleasing to Him, no doubt, than all the other existing elements. For the darkness was total thus far, shapeless without the ornaments of stars; and the abyss gloomy; and the earth unfinished; and the heaven unwrought: water alone – always a perfect, gladsome, simple material substance, pure in itself- supplied a worthy vehicle to God.”
Tertullian, Christian author, B. 160
while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Genesis 1:2
“Since the beginning of the world, water, so humble and wonderful a creature, has been the source of life and fruitfulness. Sacred Scripture [Gen 1:2] sees it as “overshadowed” by the Spirit of God.” 1
The Holy Spirit sweeping over the dark abyss of the waters of the soul is the same life giving, protective, healing, loving, “shadowing” God does to people throughout Scripture. The reason the word “shadow’ or “overshadow” isn’t used in this verse is that light hasn’t been created yet to cause a shadow. The ancient Hebrew concept of “overshadow” meant an actual shadow was cast on one for whom protection or blessing was given. The Virgin Mary was the recipient for all of humanity of the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing at the Annunciation, 2 which brought the life-giving Light of Life Jesus to a spiritually darkened world. In Genesis, the Holy Spirit is sweeping over a soul in darkness about to be enlightened with the life-giving light of faith.
Today’s 1st Reading tells of God offering the people a life or death choice, the Responsorial Psalm tells us those who hope in the Lord are blessed, and Jesus teaches those who lose their life for his sake will save it. The gift of faith will also be a life or death choice for the soul who receives it in the next Genesis verse, for faith always comes with a choice; a choice to continue to serve false gods, or the one true God.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.
All three of today’s Daily Readings, as they have been since Ash Wednesday, are about repentance and belief; turning away from sin and practicing a virtuous life. The soul we are following here in Genesis is undergoing a conversion as well. As we progress through the spiritual meanings in Genesis, we will find them corresponding to the Lenten Readings. You can click here to be taken directly to God’s Word in the February 23 Readings:
Light has a unique association with God that no other created good has. Besides all we’ve pondered in this reflection on light, there is God the Father’s only begotten Son, the Eternal Light of the World, Jesus Christ.
Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Matthew 10:27
Jesus is not the created light in Genesis, though it is the great foreshadow of his uncreated light coming into the world at the Incarnation. In Jesus’ declaration, he not only gives the light but is himself the light that enables the soul’s sight. He is the guiding light, the light of life, and the fullness of the light first bestowed in the beginning of Genesis.
Jesus declares to his followers Matthew:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14
We ourselves become light bearers of Jesus’ light, reflecting the heavenly Father, glorifying him.
Just as The Holy Spirit, The Lord, The Giver of Life will overshadow Mary to bring Jesus the Light of the world into a world darkened by sin, the Holy Spirit in Genesis sweeps over the waters of a soul floundering in spiritual darkness, as does the Holy Spirit also sweep over the natural waters engulfed in darkness when God said, Let there be light, 1 and creation was gifted with sight.
Tomorrow we will finish up with the light created on the first day, but as you know there is more happening with light on the fourth day.
And as promised, tomorrow we will reflect upon the extremely important “how good” God saw in the light. Just how good is the light?
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.
Then God said, “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters, to separate one body of water from the other.” And so it happened: God made the dome, and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it. God called the dome “the sky.” Evening came, and morning followed – the second day. Genesis 1:6-8
According to St. John of the Cross, there are two interrelated parts of the soul: the spiritual part and the sensual part. 1 Both parts form the whole unified human person. In our Genesis reflection, the waters of the soul below the dome of the sky which is on the earth, signify the soul’s sensual part. They include the soul’s body and its exterior senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell which it uses to remain in contact with its environment, and to receive impressions. These are the gateway to the soul’s interior senses – the imaginative powers – which uses the impressions from the five bodily senses to immediately form internal images of objects from the outside world, still belonging to the sensual part. 2 These lead to the interior faculties of the understanding, memory, and will; the spiritual part of the soul. They are the closest to God and are therefore given the higher place in Genesis in the waters above the dome of the sky.
Here is a quote neatly summing up all the faculties of spirit and sense from Toward a Model of Spiritual Direction Based on the Writings of St. John of the Cross:
“The intellect [understanding] is the knowing faculty and the basis for the psychological operations of thought, reason, judgement, and understanding. Figuratively, the intellect provides spiritual light for the soul. The memory is the repository for the sense faculties and ideas from the intellect, as well as the imaginative and discursive powers of the soul. The will is the affective faculty of the soul, the power to love and desire. It is the basis for the soul’s strength and energy. Figuratively, the will governs the soul by directing its other psychological functions toward their appropriate objects. Although each of these faculties is distinct from the other, they act interdependently.
The sense faculties, too, are distinct from the spiritual faculties but operate interdependently with them. The soul with its faculties give life to the body as a tabula rasa (clean slate), depending upon the activity of the sense faculties before the operations of intellect, memory and will can begin. John describes this relationship in the following manner:
‘The soul (el alma) as soon as God infuses it into the body, is like a smooth, blank board (tabula rasa) upon which nothing is painted; and, save for that which it experiences through the senses, nothing is communicated to it, in the course of nature, from any other source. And thus, for as long as it is in the body, it is like one who is in a dark prison and who knows nothing, save what he is able to see through the windows of the said prison; and, if he saw nothing through them, he would see nothing in any other way. And thus the soul, save for that which is communicated to it through the senses which are the windows of its prison, could acquire nothing, in the course of nature, in any other way.’ 3
With this view of the soul’s relation to the body, we can easily understand that John considered the body with its sense faculties as the lower, exterior, inferior, animal part of man, while the soul with its spiritual faculties as the higher, interior, superior, uniquely human part of man. The sensory part of the human person, in direct contact with the external world, communicates the information it receives from the outside through the senses to the spirit or interior part of the person where it is acted upon by the intellect, memory, and will in their operations of knowledge, reflection, and love.” 4
St. John quotes St. Paul in his use of “animal man”: The animal man perceiveth not the things of God; they are to him as foolishness and he cannot understand them. St. John continues: “By the animal man is here understood the man that still lives according to natural desires and pleasures.” 5 Our Saint refers to those attached only to their natural operations, sensory or spiritual, but without a relationship to the supernatural influence of God.
St. John’s view of the soul reflects in Genesis the division of the waters of the soul’s two parts, the sensual below the dome of the sky on the earth, and the spiritual above the dome of the sky.
The separation of the waters of the soul in Genesis foreshadows the other great Scriptural parting of the waters of the Red Sea in Exodus, which initiated the beginning of Israel’s life of faith on a practical level. Scripture tells us:
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land. When the water was thus divided, the Israelites marched into its midst of the sea on dry land, with the water lake a wall to their right and to their left. Exodus 14:21-22
When the Lord “swept the sea with a strong east wind” thus dividing it in Exodus, it is the same “mighty wind [that] swept over the waters” in Genesis 1:2 God separates with the dome of the sky.
What does this separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus mean spiritually? These glorious and remarkable events proclaim God’s will for humans to be composed of both spirit and sense (including the body) and operate using both spirit and sense – and because, like the two great partings of the vast waters, a spirit and sense existence is glorious and remarkable. The separating and parting of waters in Genesis and Exodus defines for the soul its spiritual and sensual parts upon receiving the light of faith. It is the soul realizing its spiritual principle.
A pilgrimage of physical endurance walking or biking long distance to a shrine or holy place with spiritual devotion is an intense condensed experience of a person’s lifetime faith journey. The parting of the waters of the soul is God introducing it to pilgrimage – the way of both sense and spirit- just like he did with Israel and their physical guide Moses, the fiery cloud (of faith), the parting of the Red Sea, and on through the desert:
Thus says the LORD, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters. Isaiah 43:16
The Catechism tells us what is brought about in the soul who accepts God’s invitation to traverse the path opened before them:
CCC 1221 states: “the Crossing of the Red Sea, literally the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egypt, announces the liberation wrought by Baptism.” CCC 1253 states: “Baptism is the sacrament of faith.” 6 Since Baptism and faith are so closely related, in the coming days we will be exploring what the Crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus can tell us about its faith aspect, the fiery cloud, that will further help us understand what is happening to the separating waters of the soul newly gifted and enlightened by faith in Genesis. The illustration in Genesis and then again in Exodus makes one point obvious – that a soul receiving the gift of faith is as monumental as all the waters of creation making way for its path.
Israel’s march through the Red Sea with the Egyptians on their heels, no doubt a terrifying ordeal as is the relinquishing of addictions, sin and sensual comforts, was for them a stretch and strengthening of the spiritual legs of faith they received upon their departure from Egypt. While they had passively witnessed and reasoned the signs and wonders 7 in Egypt sent by God through Moses their physical guide, at shores of the Red Sea it was time for them to step up spiritually with a test of their faith.The Red Sea biblical passage is God’s affirmation to move forward in faith – that one is never permanently stuck between the deep of our human weakness and the pursuing powers of darkness.
In today’s first Reading on the USCCB website, you can reflect upon Abraham our father in faith, and the test of what turned out to be his enormous faith in God.
While there was no human eye witness to the separation of the waters in Genesis, there is a (fictitious) eye witness account by the Israelite and former slave Abner of the House of Levi, of the parting of the Red Sea:
Both wonder of wonders! Parting vast amount of waters was terrible and awesome to behold; for it was to witness the magnitude of God’s persuasion over creation. It need not be said they’ll be no human telling of the first and more formidable accomplishment of all the waters of creation making way for the sky; though heaven rejoices when the Almighty repeats it in a soul, for it is no less glorious! It was after the children of Israel stepped out into the wilderness upon leaving our bondage to the Egyptians to follow the LORD and Moses that I, Abner, of the House of Levi, beheld God’s strong hand in the second wonder command the waters of the Red Sea with a mighty wind. We were well enough paralyzed with fright when Pharaoh and his 600 chariots reached Pi-hahiroth where we camped against the sea awaiting Moses’ next direction. When Pharaoh gathers the chariots it means death, on this day it was to be Israel’s death in desert! Most of us favored returning to Egypt where Pharaoh made sure we were as comfortable as slaves can ever hope to be by seeing to it we had plenty of meat in our flesh-pots. All this Pharaoh provided if we accomplished his brick quota and didn’t cause him grief with requests, like allowing us worship of the LORD our God. So, far better for us to be slaves of the Egyptians than suffer and die far from our homes in the barren desert! It was then Moses assured us to fear not! We shall see the victory the LORD will win for us this very day, the day Pharaoh had marked for Israel’s death! The LORD will fight for us, we had only to stand our ground. Then Moses stretched out his hand with his wooden staff over the sea, and the LORDswept the waters with a powerful east wind through the night. The mighty wind seemed to pull the very ground out from beneath the depths of the sea, making the world topsy-turvy. The waters divided by the dry path formed walls to the right and to the left of it, about 700 feet tall. Under Moses’ direction to go forward, Israel anxiously stepped out onto the dry path that was a natural sea shelf. On either side of the shelf the waters were 4000 feet deep; here the Egyptians, upon following Israel’s path into the sea, were hurled into when the LORD united the parted waters. 1 Until then, Israel marched dry- shod through the midst of the sea in the dark night; while the wind howled, and the towering sea hissed protests and sprayed threats, and men and babies cried so not a word of comfort could be heard as the LORD Our God, footsteps unseen,led his people through to safety with his out-stretched arm. 2
God’s strong hand and out-stretched arm will save his people a second time, when both arms are stretched wide to have both hands nailed to the wood of the Cross.
In today’s first Daily Reading, the Lord tells us that a man is cursed who trusts in humans and who’s strength is in flesh. But he who hopes and trusts in the Lord is blessed. It is very relevant to Abner’s Red Sea experience; the fearful and painful letting go of comfortable slavery to the senses, addictions, and sin, to walk by faith into the arms of our loving God. You can read the complete beautiful verses at the USCCB website by clicking here:
Summarizing our reflection on Feb. 25, the waters of the soul’s spirit and sense were separated by God’s placement of the dome of the sky. The spiritual part which includes the three faculties of the soul is above the sky; the sensual part which includes the body and its senses placed below the sky, on the earth.
The following is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is relevant to the next verse in Genesis:
761 The gathering together of the People of God began at the moment when sin destroyed the communion of men with God, and that of men among themselves. The gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin. This reunification is achieved secretly in the heart of all peoples: “In every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable” to God. 1
Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.” And so it happened: the water under the sky was gathered into its basin, and the dry land appeared. God called the dry land “the earth,” and the basin of water he called “the sea.” Genesis 1:9-10
Just as the human body’s requirements are food, clothing and a place to live, the soul needs the spiritual equivalent. Spiritual food, spiritual clothing and a spiritual home that provides these life sustaining essentials, and a community of those who are like-minded. The CCC points out in 1253: “Faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe.” We have just reflected upon a soul receiving the light of faith. The following Genesis verse pre-figuring the Church is logical progression of the text’s spiritual meaning. Let us continue with the spiritual interpretation of the above Genesis passage.
The verse uses the words:
Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin.
As we reflected upon, the divided water that is below the dome of the sky (which is on the earth) represent the soul’s body and five senses. The “gathering” of these waters in Genesis into a “single basin” pre-figures the gathering together of the People of God. The catch of 153 large fish in a single net in John’s Gospel 2 after the Resurrection is an evolvement of this “gathering” prefigured in Genesis. Note that both have a water reference. The 153 fishes in John traditionally represented every known fish at the time; which in turn represented all nations on the planet to be “gathered” into the Church. Briefly stated, this evolved from God gathering the water in Genesis, to the expanding covenants God uses to gather the Israelites of the Old Testament, to the single net catch of fish in John’s Gospel after Jesus establishes the New Covenant, followed with three thousand persons baptized in one day in Acts 3 , the spreading of the Church in the Epistles, to the reality of 1.2 billion Roman Catholic souls today worldwide, plus an additional 200-300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians. This prefigurement of gathering together the People of God, who will regularly share a spiritual meal, signifies what will become the soul’s one spiritual home on earth: the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. One home is signified in Genesis by “a single basin.”
It is a very beautiful analogy that water is used in Genesis (and the above John’s Gospel verse) to foretell this gathering of the Church, because when brought to fulfillment water is used again to unify, in the Sacrament of Baptism. The Catechism tells us that “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.” [CCC 1271 with footnote 82: UR 22 § 2 [/note] It is also wondrous that as God gathered the waters and formed the dry land with his hands so very very long ago, before any of us came to be, his people were in his thoughts.
As stated before on our Feb. 19th reflection, the means God uses to gather the People of God is faith. CCC 762 states: “The remote preparation for this gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. 4 Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of all nations.” This is expressed most fully in the Scripture verse after Abraham’s enormous test of faith when God asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Just before he is about to do it, he is stopped by the messenger of God who called to him:
I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing – all because you obeyed my command. Genesis 22:16-18
This verse is the introduction of faith working toward the gathering together of the Church, the People of God.
The dry land that appears in our Genesis verse after the natural waters are gathered God calls “the earth,” which provides for the physical home of the body.
In today’s Daily Readings for Friday March 2, Jesus identifies himself as the cornerstone of his Church. He is the solid foundation upon which the entire mystical edifice comprised of gathered souls is to be built, and the stone the builders reject. You can read the entire Gospel reading by clicking here for the USCCB website:
Today we’ll explore the four passions of the will, called the fish of the sea in Genesis 1:26&28. But first we need to understand the desires of the will since they are what the soul is passionate about. Our Saint neatly sums up: “all pleasures, joys, and affections are ever caused in the soul by the will and desire for things which appear to be good to you, fitting and delectable, since the soul considers these to be pleasing and precious; and in this way the desires of the will are drawn to them [the passions], and it hopes for them; and rejoices in them when it has them, and fears to lose them.”
Here is a sublime explanation by St. John of the passions:
“These affections and passions are four, namely: joy, hope, grief, and fear. These passions, when they are controlled by reason according to the way of God, so the soul rejoices only in that which is purely the honor and glory of God, and hopes for naught else, neither grieves save things than concern this, neither fears aught save God alone, it is clear that the strength and ability of the soul are being directed toward God and kept for Him. For, the more the soul rejoices in any other thing than God, the less completely will it center its rejoicing in God, and the more it hopes in aught else, the less will it hope in God; and so with the other passions.”
*** “These four passions have the greater dominion in the soul, and assail it the more vehemently, when, the will is less strongly attached to God and more dependent on the creatures. For then it rejoices very readily at things that merit not rejoicing, hopes in that which brings no profit, grieves over that in which perchance it ought to rejoice, and fears where there is no reason for fearing.”
“From these affections, [passions] when they are unbridled, arise in the soul all the vices and imperfections which it possesses, and likewise, when they are ordered and composes, all its virtues. And it must be known that, if one of them should become ordered and controlled by reason, the rest will become so likewise; for these four passions of the soul are so closely and intimately united to one another that the actual direction of one is the virtual direction of the others; and if one be actually recollected the other three will virtually and proportionately be recollected likewise. For, if the will rejoice in anything, it will as a result hope for the same thing to the extent of its rejoicing, and herein are virtually included grief and fear with regard to the same thing; and, in proportion as desire for these is taken away, fear and grief concerning them are likewise gradually lost, and hope for them is removed. …the wings of each one of these affections [passions] are joined to those of each of the others, so that, in whichever direction one of them turns – that is, in its operation – the others of necessity go with it virtually also; and, when one of them descends, as is there said, they must all descend, and, when one is lifted up, they will all be lifted up. Where thy hope is, thither will go thy joy and fear and grief; and, if thy hope returns, the others will return and so of the rest.”
*** “Wherefore thou must take note that, wheresoever one of these passions is, thither will go likewise the whole soul and the will and the other faculties, and they will all live as captives to this passion, and the other three passions will be living in it also, to afflict the soul with their captivity.”
It is interesting to note that what the world calls freedom, St. John calls captivity.
One could just about substitute “school of fish” for “passions” in the above description by our Saint and still have it make sense. For his teaching on the virtual movements of the four passions also describes the movements of a school of fish in the open sea; as one fish descends so all the rest, when one ascends to the surface or goes left or right the others simultaneously follow, as is their practice for self-preservation. The soul’s four passions of joy, hope, grief and fear are therefore represented by the “fish of the sea” in the next paragraph in Genesis 1:26, where God directs the man and the woman to have dominion over the fish of the sea, which spiritually is their passions. We are discussing them here since they are governed by the will and affect the virtues.
Represented by the fish of the sea, the passions are placed by God in the sea of the will with the other living creatures that are charity and the virtues; for according to what our Saint and the Catechism has told us , all are closely relational in their operations, so it makes sense they are all found together, teeming with life in the sea of love.
If time permits you, I suggest reading the charming story of Jonah and the Fish in your Bible before reading tomorrow’s reflection here, since part of Jonah is what we will be going over. See if you can connect what happens to Jonah with what we reflected upon today. Hint: keep the above 2 paragraphs by St. John in mind that start with a *** while reading about Jonah, specifically in chapters 1 and 2. The whole Book of Jonah is very short, only a few pages.
Today’s Daily Readings are all about water; its cleansing and healing properties.
and God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth.” Genesis 1:21-22
God’s very first blessing in in all of Holy Scripture is for the soul to attain an unbounded increase in love and virtues, filling the sea of its will.
The gathered People of God prays together for this fullness of love and virtue in Eucharistic Prayer II: “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her the fullness of charity…”
While God instructed the creatures of the sea of the will to fill the water with love and virtues, he did not have quite the same blessing for the birds of the air, however necessary they are for the soul to maneuver in the world. God directed them to multiply on the earth, but not to fill it or the air.
As was said, the birds of the air, the interior sense faculties, reside in the lower sense region of the soul; that is where God directs they multiply on the earth – from what is gleaned from the 5 bodily senses. God did not intend the soul to be “filled” with internal images of creatures; be they of sight, sound, taste, touch or smell, as can be seen by the lack of his instruction to the birds of the air to “fill” as he did with the sea creatures of love and virtues. This is because the soul is meant to regularly to find quiet rest in simple loving attention to God in prayer:
“The Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He always speaks in eternal silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul.”