Just at the end of Genesis 3, the story reads, "After Noah was five hundred years old…" Five hundred years old! This is the beginning of the story of Noah and the Ark and The Great Flood. History begins again at the moment the ark, laden with animals, begins to float through the driving rain, and everything else that had come before matters no longer.
Is it a story of creation? Is it a story of destruction?
There is the strong element of God's disgust with the sorry state of the world, an emotion we and all readers are expected to share. There is the idea to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate, which we are expected to go along with since it's God's idea (and maybe you've felt so frustrated with some situation in your life or in the world that you've had the idea yourself.) And then there's the sheer power of flooding the whole world. Here the power of nature and the power of God are one; irresistible force and an immovable, deaf-eared, embodiment of judgment.
In the midst of destruction is a creation. All the animals, enough of all kinds of food, and a whole family of human animals to help out, are held safe in that ark. The ark is like a basket of groceries with all the ingredients for a feast inside. God takes a mulligan on the whole Adam and Eve thing and starts a new world with suitable provision.
God expresses deep regret, once the waters had settled, and promises not to wipe us all out ever again. Still, there was no going back to the way things were before. Had everything changed? Well, yes and no. Certainly a lot was just gone. Yet Noah and his family lived on and they had memories. The animals represented some substantial evolutionary adaptations and those are embedded in their continuing lives. And the earth was restored to the wonderful, habitable place it had been. So there was some carryover from the earlier times.
We are, each of us, asked to live in history. We have a past in which we were formed and in which we formed ourselves. Our challenges include dealing with that trail of stories, of learning, of accumulated wisdom and regret, and all the ways in which we've started over again; again and again.
We are also asked to look to the future. We will face new challenges. Our challenges include adapting, changing ourselves to deal the parade of joys and difficulties that tomorrow and the rest of our lives will bring.
We encounter a deep spiritual truth when we see that each moment we live, this moment right now for instance, is a moment in which we choose how much from the past we rely on and how much to change. It is a recurring dance between what we know, or believe, has worked before (write a letter and mail it) and what we choose to do afresh (video-chat with relatives far away.)
This may feel uncomfortable to you and you may feel anxious. How are you supposed to dance this dance? Perhaps another deep spiritual truth will open a way for you.
Each of these moments, poised between destruction and creation, poised between past and future, poised between repetition of the known or entering the new, each of these moments is its own "now." We only really live in this moment. So look at your hands. Look up at the space around you right now. Then clasp your hands together and look at them, at the choice you have made to hold your own hands. And offer up a prayer of thanksgiving; for all that has been, for the day or days that lie before you, and for this moment, this precious now. Here's a prayer you could use, if you like.
Dear God, you have been there always and you choose to be in the future to which I'm going right now. Thank you for each of these moments of choice. Thank you for my capacity to observe "the now" of now. Let me rest in your regard, in your everlasting arms for a little while. Then I will take up my life, our life that you and I are building together out of the past, and move forward with you into our future together. I lift you up as you lift me. Amen.