‘He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does.’ Eph.2:10 TM
When you think of religion what pops up on your mental screen first – the picture of a church, or an unattractive list of Do’s and Don’ts, or an image of elaborate vestments and rituals, or a gallery of pious, but stern faces? In contrast Paul pictures a creative partnership with Christ in the work he is doing. There was a moment of surprise at the annunciation of Mary, then after her responsive, “Yes”, began a partnership with God through which Christ was being formed within her body. Paul writes elsewhere of Christ being formed in us, turning the believer into God’s work of art.
We can perceive this as the ongoing work of creation which began through Christ in the beginning and continues today. The thirteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, ‘God is creating the entire universe, fully and totally in the present now’ – and we are part of it! The world is a work in progress, and so are we. We are under construction. The ability to create is an endowment written into God’s original design of many creatures. Human creativity is perhaps unique, confirmed in the act of procreation, but also in inspiring works of art, music, literature, poetry, sculpture, architecture, painting, complex technical products and works of great beauty.
The best and wisest spiritual counsellors encourage us to discover the holy in the ordinary and common by regarding the kitchen, workbench, office desk, classroom and our working environment as sacred ground. Recalling Christ’s promise the hymn writer says ‘Turn the stone and thou wilt find me, Cleave the wood and there am I’. What a difference it would make if when leaving for the office, or opening the shop, or turning on the computer, or putting on the uniform, or preparing dinner, or taking the kids to school – we began the routine of doing so in a conscious partnership with Christ.
In his little classic ‘The Secret of Radiant Life’ Dr Sangster includes a chapter on ‘How to get “We” in it’ in which he recalls the old fable. An elephant and a mouse once crossed a wooden bridge together and when they got to the farther side the mouse squeaked to the elephant “We made that bridge shake!” In our current situation we may often see ourselves as only mouse size, but our size is of no significance in our partnership with Christ. He makes the difference!
One of the surprising features in the church today is the harnessing of the creative human element to employ modern technology in order to maintain contact with the congregation, incorporating innovative audio and visual techniques to spread the gospel and maintain spiritual growth. In the beginning God created order out of chaos and many, in partnership with him, are striving to do the same today.
Art and Crafts was always my favourite lesson throughout my school life. Later I came to learn how stone, metal, wood, glass, needle and thread, brush and paint were used by skilled, artistic people to glorify and praise God with the best work they were capable of doing. Many years passed before discovering, through living among committed, dedicated people, different skills were needed to turn an ordinary life into something beautiful. Deformity, sickness, tragedy were changed from blots and blemishes into pictures depicting the creative triumph of the human spirit in partnership with God. Jeremiah got an insight into that possibility when he visited a potter’s studio; the potter’s ability to remake something new out of what was misshapen became a parable of what God could do with a rebellious Israel – provided they became cooperative.
We, sadly, have seen throughout history how human creative ingenuity may be used for selfish and evil purposes. Against that Annie Dillard comments ‘We are here to witness creation and to abet it. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are all around us and to praise the people who are here with us.’ When art is devoted to improving living conditions, beautifying surroundings, promoting healing, lifting and restoring the human spirit – it is pleasing to God. The Balinese have a saying, ‘We have no art. Everything we do is art’. If we become partners with God (which he invites us to do) and join him in his ongoing creative, redemptive work, through Christ, within us and around us, that could become true of our life.