Advent Week 1: Womb of Life

Georgia O’Keefe, Series 1, No. 8; Public Domain. From Wikimedia Commons

…Womb of Life, our Sovereign, how exalted is your Name in all the earth! 

(Psalm 8:1, translation from Wilda C. Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year A)

How to you spell the sound of breathing? When God reveals God’s name to Moses, it is spelled “YHWH,” and theologians have speculated that in addition to meaning “I am who I am,” it represents the sound of breath. For ancient Hebrews and modern Jews, the name was considered too sacred to speak out loud. Instead it was whispered, or replaced with the word “Adonai,” Lord.

Of course, if it is the sound of breathing, we are saying God’s name all the time. 

Psalm 8 is usually translated as “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” because for centuries, English translators followed the convention of not printing the sacred name YHWH and substituting the word “Lord.” 

But one of the negative consequences of that choice is that over and over, the title “Lord” — patriarchal, authoritarian, dominating — replaces the sound of the breath of God. Lifetimes of repetition shape the way we understand the nature and character of God. It is no wonder American Christians are so reluctant to let go of the image of an authoritarian male God. 

In Dr. Gafney’s translation above, she has reconnected the name of God with the biological process of life. “Womb of Life” is a fitting substitution. Rather than saying “Lord, our Lord,” we affirm that God is not like other lords. Instead of a tough guy who deals in punishment and death, we address the Source of all life. In Psalm 8, the Sovereign we worship is one whose greatest defense comes “out of the mouths of babes,” not from the weapons of warriors. 

It’s an image much more consistent with the babe in the manger. The name of God is already on his lips with his very first breath. 

Womb of Life, gestate for us a new way of being in the world.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr. 

Advent Week 1: Chaos and Creation

The Pillars of Creation, NASA, from Wikimedia Commons

When beginning he, God, created the heavens and the earth, the earth was shapeless and formless and bleakness covered the face of the deep, while the Spirit of God, she, fluttered over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; so God separated the light from the bleakness. Then God called the light Day, and the bleakness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, day one. 

(Genesis 1:1-5, Translation from Wilda C. Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church)

In the first Genesis creation story, God doesn’t create from nothing. God begins creating from chaos, a “watery deep.” Some scholars speculate that this creation language was influenced by the religious myths of Babylon, which began with a divine battle against Tiamat, a sea goddess/monster. In the ancient worldview, only divine power could tame the sea — that’s one reason why Moses parting the sea and Jesus walking on the water were both such powerful symbols.

In the Genesis story, chaos is not the absence of God. In fact, God’s Spirit, in Dr. Gafney’s translation, is “fluttering over the face of the waters.” Chaos seems to be necessary for the divine act of creation to begin. 

All of the action in Genesis 1 is about separating and naming, setting boundaries and ordering things. Much later, in the book of Job, God describes the act of creation again, and tells a story of how God said to the sea: “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped” (Job 38:11). Drawing boundaries is an act of creation.   

Dr. Gafney’s helpful translation also substitutes “bleakness” for “darkness” in the story, recognizing the way that the word “darkness” has played into white supremacy in our theological language. Even here in the bleakness, I think it’s important to point out that God isn’t absent. God’s spirit is already present and at work, taking the energy of chaos and turning it towards order. 

After a year of environmental, political, economic, and social chaos, I’m grateful for the reminder that chaos is not the absence of God, and that creation arises out of chaotic energy. I’m also grateful for the reminder that the act of creation is, in part, about drawing sacred boundaries. We are in a fertile time in which new boundaries are being drawn against patriarchy and white supremacy. God is doing something new.  


Creator God, we recognize the divine possibility present in our current chaos. Draw sacred boundaries in our personal and corporate lives and unleash your creative power.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.