I’ve been introduced to a new word. It’s actually an ancient Hebrew word, “Tzintzum” (zimzum) which means to contract/constrict/condensate. These English definitions incorporate physics and chemistry as their basis and are used in childbirth, breathing and turning invisible vapor into visible water. Zimzum is a powerful concept. When used in talking about God, zimzum becomes cosmic.
The theological notion of this word is that God contracted/constricted in order to create the physical world. Think of it like good parenting. Prior to children, “you-yourself” filled your entire life. In order to allow a child into your life, you had to contract and make room. I am amazed at families with multiple children because not only do the parents have to zimzum, but so does each child in order to make room for another sibling. Zimzum does not come natural to humans. We tend to do the opposite – we expand and take over everything. Like water in the bathtub, we spread out, covering everything. Imagine the couple that moves from a studio apartment to a three-bedroom house. It doesn’t take long to fill the house. Yet, zimzum is like the grandparents that occupy a 10,000 square foot home but choose to constrict into an 8 by 10 bedroom so that many others can have a roof over their heads. Theologically, this is what God did to make creation; except that the house is the size of the Boeing Everett Factory and the living space is the size of a mini-fridge.
Imagine the zimzum it takes for God to be born as a human. It’s a little like Robin Williams’ cartoon portrayal of Aladdin describing what it’s like to live as a genie in a lamp. He said, “PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWERS!!! … Itty-bitty living space.” That’s zimzum for Jesus and explains why the tomb couldn’t stay occupied for too long. I wonder if Jesus upon ascending into heaven felt as if he could finally breathe again.
Zimzum shows me the depth, length and breadth of God’s love. It is strange to imagine someone with phenomenal cosmic powers willingly constricting for a creation that will eventually turn against its creator. It takes a strangle type of love that is willing to take a huge volume of vapor and condense into a single drop of baptismal water. Or that the King of the Universe is willing to be born in a barn to humble parents and to eventually condense onto a cross. That is some kind of love.
I think we are called to zimzum for one another. After all, Jesus said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.” Perhaps it is easier said, “Zimzum-like-me.”