The Chiasmus of Creation

I have been reading and benefiting greatly from the book The Shield of Psalmic Prayer by Donald Sheehan, edited by his widow and fellow laborer in Christ, Xenia Sheehan.

My first contact with the work of Subdeacon and Professor Sheehan of blessed memory came from his beautiful essay on Dostoevsky, in which he concluded that the focus of that great Russian Orthodox Christian writer’s novels was on “self-emptying” rather than “self-assertion,” a point upon which I cite Prof. Sheehan often with my own college literature students now.

His book has inspired me to delve deeply into the Psalms unworthily, and to try to extend my reading of them to the daily cycle of the Orthodox Church.

But it also renewed my interest in chiasmus in the Bible, in which poetry echoes around a center, first and last verses paralleling, then second and penultimate, and so forth to one that is a kind of poetic keystone in the middle.

This mirrors the liturgical time, the conciliarity, the sobornost or hidden-yet-expressed spiritual relatedness of the Church of the “hidden God,” Who was recognized by the Wise Thief as embodied next to him on the Cross on Holy Friday. So we repeat before Communion ,”Remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom.”

I have written about this with regard to the Genesis account of creation in an essay on the Christian ecopoetics of the same in my edited collection Re-Imagining Nature.

There I in my very limited way pointed out the chiasmic poetics and time of the Genesis account, which defies efforts of atheistic scientism and technocracy today to deny the truth of Creation, following the Blessed Seraphim Rose’s compendium of patristic writings on Creation in Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, as collected by Abbot Damascene in refutation of secular evolutionary views of time.

Reading Genesis, like Psalmic poetics, as chiasmic, involves noting the parallels between the seven days, which are both a sequence and a pattern of circularity based upon our relationship to God the Creator, the God-man Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Creation is from the Holy Trinity, although “through Him” the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed tells us was all made, meaning in particular Jesus Christ.

Thus the first day God created the heaven and the earth, the Holy Spirit moved upon the waters, and He said, let there be light.

On the seventh day He saw that all He had made was good or beautiful, and he rested.

These would form a chiasmic whole or pair.

Then the second day, a firmament divided the waters above from the waters below. And on the sixth day, we are told that man is made in the image and likeness of God, a reflection or mirroring as it were, like the waters above and the waters below, the ultimate among the beasts that emerge on the land, with dominion over the others.

On the third day, dry land and sea are differentiated and the earth brings forth plants, and on the fifth day, He brings forth the birds of the air, and the beings that emerges from the sea and water.

Then, in the keystone of a chiasmic reading of the poetics of Creation in Genesis, God creates lights as signs in the firmament of heaven (indicating the fundamentally living and embodied but symbolic nature of Creation), and two great lights, the sun and the moon, which also symbolize in biblical terms the Son, Christ, and the Church and the Mother of God, as in Revelation 12. This is the focus of the Creation account in a chiasmically poetic reading, unfolding our relation to our Lord Jesus Christ as central to Creation, and confounding the godless accounts of modern materialistic scientism, which in the spirit of anti-Christ would deny the Incarnation as the focus of Creation.


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