Reardon on Creation as the First Exodus
I received recently a generous gift from Father Patrick Henry Reardon: the new, revised version of his classic book, Christ in the Psalms. The new edition includes a helpful Introduction, wherein Reardon explains what the book is about, emphasizing toward the end its Christocentric focus. There are also substantive changes to his discussions of five Psalms. Although my brief comments below do not do the book justice, I want to highlight one of his new entries: Psalm 73. Here Reardon recounts Asaph’s reflections on the act of Creation as an act of deliverance or liberation. As Reardon observes, “[n]othingness was not neutral. Existence is not natural to nothingness” (145). In other words, God’s act of creating ex nihilo, was, especially given the resonance with such “battle” imagery in the ancient world, a conquering of forces opposed to God. Creation, thus, contains, so to speak, an imprint of future redemptive historical events. Listen to Reardon’s re-contexualization of Creation as the original Exodus or act of deliverance.
Centuries before parting the Red Sea. He [God] divided the more primitive waters, cleaving the fountains and the flood, cracking open the multiple heads of the sea monster in order to feed, with their meat, the peoples of Ethiopia. Creation, that is to say, was the initial Exodus, a deliverance from bondage, a redemption from the deep dungeon of non-being. The Lord smote that more ancient Pharaoh and fed him to His hungry creatures (145).
Reardon goes on to describe creation as “both a moral and a metaphysical act” (145). That is, God’s ordering of the chaos, his taking “hold on the tohu wabohu and invoke[ing] His light of the darkness of the abyss” are redemptive, salvific acts. “He did this in the sense that in the very heart of Creation, its arche or principle, there is a deed of redemption, the world’s deliverance from the oppression of primeval chaos” (145). As God’s covenant of creation “unfolded” (here one is hindered by language itself—as T.S. Eliot reminds us, “Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden, Under the tension, slip, slide, perish, Decay with imprecision”; “Burnt Norton,” V, in Four Quartets), he created time and space. The former is intimately tied to the and given expression in the liturgical calendar, whereas the latter is connected to his sanctuary. Reardon’s meditation on Ps. 73 ends by reflecting on how we, in our present human condition, attempt to undo Creation and thus to return it to chaos.
Of all the evils lamented by Aspah, therefore, the worst are the desecrations of sacred space and sacred time. God’s enemies destroyed the first with ax and fire, the second by the suppression of feast days. Man becomes the Lord’s enemy in the space dedicated for worship and glorifies himself in the sacred time set aside to glorify God. Both space and time are thus defiled. Rebellious man, by this desecration of his life, returns Creation to the primeval chaos. Living outside the covenant inherent in the structure of the world, he endeavors to undo what God has done (146).
(Although Reardon doesn’t develop an environmental ethic from this Psalm, I suspect he would be very open to the suggestion).