In the beginning there was God. God and nothing else.
And then God created.
But how could the Divine create in a universe that only God inhabited? If God was everywhere and in everything, God would need space for something that God is not. So God contracted Godself in order to create space for something else to exist.
So God’s first act of creation was a self-imposed limitation for the sake of others. At least that is the idea behind the mystical Jewish concept of zimzum (or tsimtsum). First taught in the 16th Century by Isaac Luria, the idea has gained recent attention when Rob & Kristen Bell used it as a way to talk about marriage in their book The Zimzum of Love (which is excellent, by the way). The word also shows up in the 2012 movie The Life of Pi as the name of the ocean liner that sinks at the beginning.
Although is has mystical roots, zimzum is a practical enough concept. Before creation can happen, space must be made for something — or someone — new. It’s creating space not just for someone else to exist, but making room for them to thrive.
Zimzum is a divine contraction for the sake of others.
It’s a word that goes against our nature. You see, humans are very much like water. If you pour water into any container, it will naturally expand out to fit the space it is provided. And when water breaks loose it can cause damage to objects around it in its expansion. The flooding in Oklahoma & Texas in recent weeks will testify to that.
Humans are like this as well. We take what is given to us. We naturally expand into whatever area is available and consume the resources we find. And we are often unaware of the damage that this can cause to others around us. Our instinct of self-preservation can easily turn into selfishness as we consume and take and gather.
What zimzum reminds us is that God is different. In love God restricts Godself, making room for the creation that God adores. And God continues to shower us with blessing, while continuing to make space for our own choice and free will.
It is the foundation for how we are to interact with others in the world. We contract ourselves to make room for others to thrive. We do not close ourselves off or selfishly look to our own interests. Instead we make space for the other, which of course can become messy and complicated. But it is also the path to love and beauty and community and fellowship. It is the way of God and the road that Christ walked.
We’re going to spend some time here in the coming days exploring the Biblical concept of hospitality. When we think of hospitality, images of parties or hosting a dinner in our home comes to mind. And while this is valid, the Biblical idea of hospitality goes beyond that. The way Scripture speaks of hospitality is closer to this: “loving strangers as if they are siblings.”
And this starts by making room. By creating space for the other, the stranger to thrive in the world.
The path begins with zimzum. Join us as we continue to explore the path of hospitality.