The First Reading for Sunday from Genesis, tells of God's creation of humankind and of the creatures of earth, sea and sky.
In a literal sense, this description has no meaning in our times. Scientific investigation has long since established persuasive explanations of the origins of the earth and its life forms.
Despite the explanations of science, some matters still test our finest investigations and theory making. Matters such as our daily striving for a right relationship with the divine, what preceded the Big Bang, the taunting nature of time and our search for the meaning of life. To some extent, the idea of "myth" can help us.
That word "myth" has multiple meanings, some of which are opposed. On one hand, to describe an event as a myth might mean it has no basis in reality.
CNS PHOTO | NANCY WIECHEC
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo shows the creation of Adam.
'The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.'
For example, if recent visitors to B.C. reported a sighting of the monster, Ogopogo near Peachland on Okanogan Lake, we realists from Alberta would stroke our chins, make soft sounds such as "hm-m" and counsel them about the puzzling qualities of that story, that myth that delight of the locals.
On the other hand, "myth" may refer to something grand, significant, perhaps indefinable, a statement of truth. Its quality takes us beyond the bare meaning of the words.
Think of the explanation of the origin of humankind and its immediate relationship with the creative power of God as recounted in the words from Genesis presented in today's First Reading.
We have the same message of an intimate, mythic act of creation in Michelangelo's Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. In this meaning laden masterpiece, life flows in graceful gesture from God's hand to Adam's waiting finger.
Such a beautiful interpretation of creation defies any small-minded inclination to mutter, "Nice, but it didn't happen that way." That humankind came about in ways other than represented in these two mythical ways does not make us cherish them the less; instead we treasure them for the truths they contain.
In Mark's Gospel, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, once more up to their game of testing him and his orthodoxy. It reads like a direct reference to the words from the Genesis account of the relationship between husband and wife. They ask, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
Jesus says, "God made them male and female. . . . So they are no longer two, but one flesh." If so, separation could not take place. He goes on in words well known to us all, "What God has joined together, let no one separate." Mythical and meaningful.
I enjoy the word "myth" in its powerful mode. Today's reading from Genesis notes that God had Adam name every living thing, which he did. Centuries later, a Swedish scientist, Carl Linnaeus devised the binomial system for naming living things: humans become homo sapiens; durum wheat became triticum durum; salmon, salmon salar. For his work, Linnaeus became widely known as "the Second Adam."
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)