Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Power

9 August 2022

For some time now I've been receiving mailshots from an American site called Patheos. There are two 'brands' - Patheos-evangelical and Patheos-progressive. You may guess which of the two I read first. And there's a third as well, linked to a former pastor called Keith Giles, who writes perceptive pieces from his own Christian journey. So today there's a piece called The Cheyenne Creation Myth, from a book he found called American Indian Mythology by Alice Marriott and Carol K. Rachlin, pp 37-43. Here is some of the text as in the book:

"In the beginning, there was nothing, and Maheo, the All Spirit, lived in the void. He looked around him, but there was nothing to see. He listened, but there was nothing to hear. There was only Maheo, alone in nothingness.

Because of the greatness of his Power, Maheo was not lonesome. His being was a Universe. But as he moved through the endless time of nothingness, it seemed to Maheo that his Power should be put to use.

"What good is Power," Maheo asked himself, "if it is not used to make a world and people to live in it?"

Light began to grow and spread, first white and bleached in the east, then golden and strong till it filled the middle of the sky and extended all around the horizon. Maheo watched the light, and he saw the birds and fishes, and the shellfish lying on the bottom of the lake as the light showed them to him. "How beautiful it all is", Maheo thought in his heart.

Maheo looked at the Earth Woman and he thought she was very beautiful; the most beautiful thing he had made so far. "She should not be alone," Maheo thought. "Let me give her something to myself, so she will know that I am near her and that I love her."

Maheo reached into his right side, and pulled out a rib bone. He breathed on the bone, and laid it softly on the bosom of the Earth Woman. The bone moved and stirred, stood upright and walked. The first man had come to be."

When Maheo sees that Man is alone, and realizes "...it is not good for anyone to be alone, (so) he fashioned a human woman from his own left rib and set her with the man. Then there were two persons on the Grandmother Earth, her children, and Maheo's. They were happy together, and Maheo was happy as he watched them."
The parallels between this and the Hebrew myth are fascinating. But one particular thought came to mind, and it's about Power. Maheo's love for this Earth was so great that he wanted to give the Earth a companion, and so the first man was created. Then Maheo created a woman (from his own rib, not the man's), and rejoiced in their happiness. The Cheyenne myth makes it clear that there was partnership and collaboration at the heart of creation. But in the Hebrew myth - Genesis 1:26 - it's a different story. "God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

This is not the use of Power that we see in the Cheyenne myth. At worst, as we see so often in the news, dominion easily becomes domination, and Genesis 2 leads us into that reality. But it's worth remembering that the creation stories in our Bible began to be written around the time of the Exile, around the 500s BCE, and have their roots in the troubled history of the Israelite people. In the two conquests of Israel first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians, the people were exiled and their dreams and hopes shattered. Even after the restoration of their land and Temple, the Israelites were still a conquered nation. No wonder, then, that their creation myth hovers around power and the superiority of the human race, and the need to control the whole of creation.

We say that history is written by the winners; how do we Brits think of ourselves? How would we write our story? What place would partnership and collaboration have in our story? The Commonwealth Games have just ended, a reminder of just how many nations have been former territories of Great Britain. It brings home the truth that so much of our self-knowledge is built on our unconscious awareness of past greatness and the abuse of power.

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