If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot

A new take on the story of creation. ‘If God and I are not very much, far less than you think, then he is the most of us two.’

Bart Moeyaert | January 2004 issue

In the beginning there was nothing. This is hard to imagine. You have to wipe out everything so that it no longer exists. You have to turn out the lights, and not exist yourself, and then even forget the darkness, because in the beginning there was nothing, not even darkness. If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot. Even your mother.

You’re left with only God and me. It’s hard to be left with only God and me when you’ve been trying to think of nothing; but then again, God and I aren’t much. In fact, we’re far less than you think. We are that little bit of air that travels around the world at night. A light rain shower. Not even last winter’s snow. That’s how little we are.

Nevertheless, in the beginning we were there. There was nothing and God and me – and a chair to sit on, as there had been nothing for such a very long time. It was terrible.

We knew nothing of later. And we’d never thought about tomorrow. There was no past and no ‘it’s a fine day today’, no cup of tea and ‘would you like a biscuit with it?’, no photo of the dog with the budgie perched on his head, nothing even something to talk about, as we’d already said all there was to say about the view.

No matter how you looked at it: nothing changed, nothing remained nothing. But when I asked God how he was, or whether his chair was comfortable, he would give me the thumbs up sign and nod his head. Everything was just fine he said. Couldn’t be better. Even though there was nothing.

‘If you try a little you can see what is to come,’ said God one day, waving his hands about, and stabbing here and there in the nothingness, as if he were touching the things that did not exist before they were actually there. ‘Are you looking?’ he asked. ‘Can you see anything?’

God told me what he saw and mentioned the things by name; but if of all things the only thing you know by name is nothing and the chair, then you simply have no idea what he is talking about. A table has four legs and a budgie is seated on his head and you can eat at a dog.

‘You can see it all,’ I said to God. ‘How wonderful, I can hardly wait for it to come.’

This was the perfect answer. The advantage of having nothing and a chair is that you only have two things. And if that’s everything, then you have few concerns. ‘I am curious to know where you are going to start,’ I said to God, and like him, I began to stab at the nothingness with my fingers. It was a bit presumptuous, but the mischievous smile that played around his lips belied his excitement at the things that were yet to come – and all together that was quite a lot. ‘Let me see,’ said God. And he extended his arms and created something.

I did not notice it at first. It was the day. I only realised it a few hours later, when it got dark. ‘Good,’ said God in the twilight, and even though I could not quite see, I knew he was giving me the thumbs up.

I pressed my lips together. If God and I are not very much, far less than you think, then he is the most of us two.

But it was difficult to admit it at that point. Who knows, maybe it would have gotten dark anyway, and maybe day and night were simply part of nothingness, and maybe something would happen with the chair as well. Who knows, maybe I wasn’t who I was and my chair would turn into something else.

‘Very nice,’ I said looking into the night and drumming my fingers on my knees.
‘What’s next?’

‘A morning,’ said God and he smiled and put his hands behind his head and breathed a sigh of satisfaction.

It doesn’t take much to make something of nothing. In God’s case a satisfied sigh was enough.

Everything appeared just the same as before, just as when the day was created, but it was an illusion. I felt the hairs on my arm move and my eyelashes fluttered causing my eyes to fill with tears. When there is first nothing, you notice the slightest movement. I was once in a quiet room when a mouse moved. In fact, I was once in a quiet room when a mouse moved and a cat woke up. It was like this after the sigh, and the situation did not improve. The wind began to blow harder. It was turning into a gale and soon things would start crashing into one another. This was a fact. ‘Ooh,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said God. And there it was again. The thumbs-up sign. I looked all around and saw it: it was wet here and dry there.

‘Coincidence,’ I said. ‘Pure coincidence’.

‘Coincidence,’ said God, and he licked his thumb and pressed it to his chest. ‘This is some coincidence then. I’m sitting thinking about land and water and all of a sudden we have land and water. We’re having quite an adventure.’ He dangled his feet in the sea and leaned back resting his hands in the sand.

My mind was completely overwhelmed and it was a good thing I was sitting down. But I would not admit defeat. Nothing had really happened, I told myself. The nothingness was made up of day and night, wet and dry, belief and disbelief and a chair.

‘It’s just wind, an adverse wind,’ I said crossing my arms and trying not to notice that the land and the sea were really very well done. ‘Now let’s get down to business. This side and that side, anyone could come up with that,’ and I waved my hands around me so that he would see precisely which sides I meant.

If God and I are not very much then, to be quite honest, I am the least of the two. A mere speck of dust. One breath and I’m gone; that’s how small I am.

We had only been busy with the beginning for three days when God suddenly rolled out a sloppy carpet of greenery and grass and ground out of which everything grew, budded and blossomed and it waved to and fro in the wind that blew in from the ocean or across the land.

‘Good,’ said God.

‘Good,’ said I, and I could have kicked myself because God was gentle and everything, and I was bad and almost nothing. Still holding tightly onto my chair, I noted that everything was in permanent motion. ‘Just look at it growing and budding and blossoming, in the wind, in the wind, in the wind’, by which I meant that everything was like dust in the wind. I did not know where I was, I said. Seated on my chair between day and night, land and water, and now everything that was growing and budding and blossoming; it was all very beautiful but where was it?

‘Where?’ I said to God.

And do you know what he did?

With his hands he drew a circle around me and suddenly I knew where I was. I was on my chair between the sun and the moon and the stars and the far beyond, and when he also gave names to the heavens, I felt like I was floating.

‘This is good,’ I whispered. ‘This is really good. Good,’ I said before the show-off could give me the thumbs up.

‘Good,’ and I stabbed my finger towards God as if I was able to touch what I was going to tell him. ‘What do you really want of me? Why am I here? To applaud? To present you with a bouquet of flowers for all your trouble? Or do you want me to dig a hole and stand in it so that I become even smaller than I already am? I can never be small enough compared to what you do. Or were you planning to make me feel like I’m shrinking and that I will eventually become less than nothing? You create a beautiful far beyond, but in at the same time that what is closest – me – has all but disappeared. Never before have I felt so alone, beneath your stars, on your earth, in the wind, in the wind, in the wind, by which I meant that the bushes and the rest of the vegetation only appeared to be alive when the wind blew. What was the use of all that had been created? Light and shade, scent and fire, and a banana that one can eat. But as far as I can see there is not one plant with arms and legs like me.

God suddenly grinned.

‘So you find it amusing’, I said. ‘Well, I don’t’.

‘I am laughing with them and not with you,’ said God, and he pointed to the dog at my feet, the budgie on my head and to the cat, which although only just created had already caught a mouse.

All sorts of creatures were trying to climb into my lap. A baby monkey, a billy-goat, and if they weren’t going for my lap then they hung onto my leg or stayed where they were. Creeping, flying or swimming, or walking, or climbing, and in a few cases they could also do other things, or different things at the same time.

I think it must have taken me a whole day to look at everything and even then I hadn’t seen them all, as some creatures hid from me and some I hadn’t noticed because they had crawled under my skin or into my hair or simply were not visible to the naked eye, not even if they had waved two legs at me.

‘Good,’ I said over my shoulder. And I really meant it. I gave the thumbs-up sign and waited to hear God’s voice behind me. But there was nothing. ‘That’s fine too,’ I said over my shoulder. I felt sorry for God. He was tired.

When I say that God and I are not much, I am just guessing. It’s just an estimate. I will never know for sure. Now that I have seen nothingness, something can be a lot and sometimes hardly anything is ridiculously little. And when I reflect on this, who knows, God might be almost anything. You try and discover something that is yet to come. And then do it again and again. I can imagine that creating things must get to you. I once made a figure out of bread dough. It was supposed to be a sheep. ‘What a sweet little horse,’ said my mother spreading butter onto it. It is so easy to make a mistake.

‘God’ I said, and turned around in my chair. ‘Why did you first create light and only then the sun? Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Or shouldn’t you have created them together? Looking back, don’t you think it was a wasted move and aren’t you sorry you did it?

I could have kicked myself. What had started out as a well-meaning question had suddenly taken off in another direction. My speech was venemous. The dog lying at my feet suddenly sat up and other animals became restless, but God looked around him unperturbed. He nodded at me and at the rest of the world and said that it was good just as it was.

‘God’ I said, turning away from him. ‘You are so strict with everything, but not with me. Why don’t you just admit it, I am a mistake.’

‘No way,’ said God. And he waved his hands. He showed me first this side and then that. They were different, but if you looked more closely you saw that they complimented one another. Then he pointed to a woman, who had suddenly appeared. She was beautiful and naked like me, and she almost radiated light.

‘Yes way,’ said God. The dog at my feet leapt up wagging its tail, which was like a thumbs up.

When the woman and I woke up the next day on our bed of sheep, we were careful not to make a noise. God was asleep. He had had a tough week. He lay face down with his arms extended and gently snored. Towards the evening he turned on his side and muttered in his sleep.

‘So’, he said and went on to say that this was the last part of the week. He had created nothing that day, absolutely nothing, something he had never done before.

‘That’s true’, I said to the woman. ‘That’s true. In the beginning there was nothing, but it was not God’s nothing. It’s hard to imagine. You have to wipe out everything that is now so that it no longer exists. You have to turn out the light, and not exist yourself, and then even forget the darkness, because in the beginning there was nothing, not even the darkness. If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot.’

The Dutch Horn Ensemble Bart Moeyaert to write this text for its musical theatre production De Schepping (Creation). Franz Joseph Haydn’s Die Schöpfung served as the starting point for the production.

Bart Moeyaert is a Flemish writer. He debuted as a 19 year-old with his autobiographical book ‘Duet met valse noten’ (Duet with false notes), which won the Dutch children’s and jury’s book-of-the-year prizes. Twenty years on, he has penned several more award-winning books, which have been translated into many languages. He has also written plays and bundles of poetry. De schepping was first published with prints from Wolf Erlbruch by Querido publishers and is also available in German, French and Korean.

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If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot

A new take on the story of creation. ‘If God and I are not very much, far less than you think, then he is the most of us two.’

Bart Moeyaert | January 2004 issue

In the beginning there was nothing. This is hard to imagine. You have to wipe out everything so that it no longer exists. You have to turn out the lights, and not exist yourself, and then even forget the darkness, because in the beginning there was nothing, not even darkness. If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot. Even your mother.

You’re left with only God and me. It’s hard to be left with only God and me when you’ve been trying to think of nothing; but then again, God and I aren’t much. In fact, we’re far less than you think. We are that little bit of air that travels around the world at night. A light rain shower. Not even last winter’s snow. That’s how little we are.

Nevertheless, in the beginning we were there. There was nothing and God and me – and a chair to sit on, as there had been nothing for such a very long time. It was terrible.

We knew nothing of later. And we’d never thought about tomorrow. There was no past and no ‘it’s a fine day today’, no cup of tea and ‘would you like a biscuit with it?’, no photo of the dog with the budgie perched on his head, nothing even something to talk about, as we’d already said all there was to say about the view.

No matter how you looked at it: nothing changed, nothing remained nothing. But when I asked God how he was, or whether his chair was comfortable, he would give me the thumbs up sign and nod his head. Everything was just fine he said. Couldn’t be better. Even though there was nothing.

‘If you try a little you can see what is to come,’ said God one day, waving his hands about, and stabbing here and there in the nothingness, as if he were touching the things that did not exist before they were actually there. ‘Are you looking?’ he asked. ‘Can you see anything?’

God told me what he saw and mentioned the things by name; but if of all things the only thing you know by name is nothing and the chair, then you simply have no idea what he is talking about. A table has four legs and a budgie is seated on his head and you can eat at a dog.

‘You can see it all,’ I said to God. ‘How wonderful, I can hardly wait for it to come.’

This was the perfect answer. The advantage of having nothing and a chair is that you only have two things. And if that’s everything, then you have few concerns. ‘I am curious to know where you are going to start,’ I said to God, and like him, I began to stab at the nothingness with my fingers. It was a bit presumptuous, but the mischievous smile that played around his lips belied his excitement at the things that were yet to come – and all together that was quite a lot. ‘Let me see,’ said God. And he extended his arms and created something.

I did not notice it at first. It was the day. I only realised it a few hours later, when it got dark. ‘Good,’ said God in the twilight, and even though I could not quite see, I knew he was giving me the thumbs up.

I pressed my lips together. If God and I are not very much, far less than you think, then he is the most of us two.

But it was difficult to admit it at that point. Who knows, maybe it would have gotten dark anyway, and maybe day and night were simply part of nothingness, and maybe something would happen with the chair as well. Who knows, maybe I wasn’t who I was and my chair would turn into something else.

‘Very nice,’ I said looking into the night and drumming my fingers on my knees.
‘What’s next?’

‘A morning,’ said God and he smiled and put his hands behind his head and breathed a sigh of satisfaction.

It doesn’t take much to make something of nothing. In God’s case a satisfied sigh was enough.

Everything appeared just the same as before, just as when the day was created, but it was an illusion. I felt the hairs on my arm move and my eyelashes fluttered causing my eyes to fill with tears. When there is first nothing, you notice the slightest movement. I was once in a quiet room when a mouse moved. In fact, I was once in a quiet room when a mouse moved and a cat woke up. It was like this after the sigh, and the situation did not improve. The wind began to blow harder. It was turning into a gale and soon things would start crashing into one another. This was a fact. ‘Ooh,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ said God. And there it was again. The thumbs-up sign. I looked all around and saw it: it was wet here and dry there.

‘Coincidence,’ I said. ‘Pure coincidence’.

‘Coincidence,’ said God, and he licked his thumb and pressed it to his chest. ‘This is some coincidence then. I’m sitting thinking about land and water and all of a sudden we have land and water. We’re having quite an adventure.’ He dangled his feet in the sea and leaned back resting his hands in the sand.

My mind was completely overwhelmed and it was a good thing I was sitting down. But I would not admit defeat. Nothing had really happened, I told myself. The nothingness was made up of day and night, wet and dry, belief and disbelief and a chair.

‘It’s just wind, an adverse wind,’ I said crossing my arms and trying not to notice that the land and the sea were really very well done. ‘Now let’s get down to business. This side and that side, anyone could come up with that,’ and I waved my hands around me so that he would see precisely which sides I meant.

If God and I are not very much then, to be quite honest, I am the least of the two. A mere speck of dust. One breath and I’m gone; that’s how small I am.

We had only been busy with the beginning for three days when God suddenly rolled out a sloppy carpet of greenery and grass and ground out of which everything grew, budded and blossomed and it waved to and fro in the wind that blew in from the ocean or across the land.

‘Good,’ said God.

‘Good,’ said I, and I could have kicked myself because God was gentle and everything, and I was bad and almost nothing. Still holding tightly onto my chair, I noted that everything was in permanent motion. ‘Just look at it growing and budding and blossoming, in the wind, in the wind, in the wind’, by which I meant that everything was like dust in the wind. I did not know where I was, I said. Seated on my chair between day and night, land and water, and now everything that was growing and budding and blossoming; it was all very beautiful but where was it?

‘Where?’ I said to God.

And do you know what he did?

With his hands he drew a circle around me and suddenly I knew where I was. I was on my chair between the sun and the moon and the stars and the far beyond, and when he also gave names to the heavens, I felt like I was floating.

‘This is good,’ I whispered. ‘This is really good. Good,’ I said before the show-off could give me the thumbs up.

‘Good,’ and I stabbed my finger towards God as if I was able to touch what I was going to tell him. ‘What do you really want of me? Why am I here? To applaud? To present you with a bouquet of flowers for all your trouble? Or do you want me to dig a hole and stand in it so that I become even smaller than I already am? I can never be small enough compared to what you do. Or were you planning to make me feel like I’m shrinking and that I will eventually become less than nothing? You create a beautiful far beyond, but in at the same time that what is closest – me – has all but disappeared. Never before have I felt so alone, beneath your stars, on your earth, in the wind, in the wind, in the wind, by which I meant that the bushes and the rest of the vegetation only appeared to be alive when the wind blew. What was the use of all that had been created? Light and shade, scent and fire, and a banana that one can eat. But as far as I can see there is not one plant with arms and legs like me.

God suddenly grinned.

‘So you find it amusing’, I said. ‘Well, I don’t’.

‘I am laughing with them and not with you,’ said God, and he pointed to the dog at my feet, the budgie on my head and to the cat, which although only just created had already caught a mouse.

All sorts of creatures were trying to climb into my lap. A baby monkey, a billy-goat, and if they weren’t going for my lap then they hung onto my leg or stayed where they were. Creeping, flying or swimming, or walking, or climbing, and in a few cases they could also do other things, or different things at the same time.

I think it must have taken me a whole day to look at everything and even then I hadn’t seen them all, as some creatures hid from me and some I hadn’t noticed because they had crawled under my skin or into my hair or simply were not visible to the naked eye, not even if they had waved two legs at me.

‘Good,’ I said over my shoulder. And I really meant it. I gave the thumbs-up sign and waited to hear God’s voice behind me. But there was nothing. ‘That’s fine too,’ I said over my shoulder. I felt sorry for God. He was tired.

When I say that God and I are not much, I am just guessing. It’s just an estimate. I will never know for sure. Now that I have seen nothingness, something can be a lot and sometimes hardly anything is ridiculously little. And when I reflect on this, who knows, God might be almost anything. You try and discover something that is yet to come. And then do it again and again. I can imagine that creating things must get to you. I once made a figure out of bread dough. It was supposed to be a sheep. ‘What a sweet little horse,’ said my mother spreading butter onto it. It is so easy to make a mistake.

‘God’ I said, and turned around in my chair. ‘Why did you first create light and only then the sun? Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? Or shouldn’t you have created them together? Looking back, don’t you think it was a wasted move and aren’t you sorry you did it?

I could have kicked myself. What had started out as a well-meaning question had suddenly taken off in another direction. My speech was venemous. The dog lying at my feet suddenly sat up and other animals became restless, but God looked around him unperturbed. He nodded at me and at the rest of the world and said that it was good just as it was.

‘God’ I said, turning away from him. ‘You are so strict with everything, but not with me. Why don’t you just admit it, I am a mistake.’

‘No way,’ said God. And he waved his hands. He showed me first this side and then that. They were different, but if you looked more closely you saw that they complimented one another. Then he pointed to a woman, who had suddenly appeared. She was beautiful and naked like me, and she almost radiated light.

‘Yes way,’ said God. The dog at my feet leapt up wagging its tail, which was like a thumbs up.

When the woman and I woke up the next day on our bed of sheep, we were careful not to make a noise. God was asleep. He had had a tough week. He lay face down with his arms extended and gently snored. Towards the evening he turned on his side and muttered in his sleep.

‘So’, he said and went on to say that this was the last part of the week. He had created nothing that day, absolutely nothing, something he had never done before.

‘That’s true’, I said to the woman. ‘That’s true. In the beginning there was nothing, but it was not God’s nothing. It’s hard to imagine. You have to wipe out everything that is now so that it no longer exists. You have to turn out the light, and not exist yourself, and then even forget the darkness, because in the beginning there was nothing, not even the darkness. If you want to see the beginning of everything then you really have to leave out a lot.’

The Dutch Horn Ensemble Bart Moeyaert to write this text for its musical theatre production De Schepping (Creation). Franz Joseph Haydn’s Die Schöpfung served as the starting point for the production.

Bart Moeyaert is a Flemish writer. He debuted as a 19 year-old with his autobiographical book ‘Duet met valse noten’ (Duet with false notes), which won the Dutch children’s and jury’s book-of-the-year prizes. Twenty years on, he has penned several more award-winning books, which have been translated into many languages. He has also written plays and bundles of poetry. De schepping was first published with prints from Wolf Erlbruch by Querido publishers and is also available in German, French and Korean.

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