What does it really mean to see God as Creator? One of the most foundational statements about God is that God is Creator, bringing all things into being from nothing. This is well and good, but it leads to another question: How does God create?
This question reemerged in my thoughts at our parish’s Saint Nicholas Party. Every year, St. Olaf Parish holds a party for our youth around the date of St. Nicholas. We tell the story of this great saint, helping our youth understand the origins of what our culture presents as the celebration of Christmas. It acts as a fun evening celebration with stories, music, games, and activities.
Here is a summary of his life, including reference to the dowry he secretly gave to a poor family so their daughters could marry, which morphed into the gift giving we do in our modern celebration of Christmas.
My part of the evening is to provide an activity by teaching our young people how to paint. As a hobby artist, I greatly enjoy the art form called “Dirty Pour.” It’s basically a process of taking different colors of acrylic paint, introduce different additives to each paint, layer them in a cup, and then dump all the paint on a canvas. After that, you manipulate the canvas by tilting it, participating in a delicate artistic “dance” of trying to get the paint to do one thing, but realizing that, ultimately, the paint is going to do what the paint is going to do. It also doesn’t hurt that it is a form of art that involves the use of a blowtorch! Put another way, Priest + Fire = Happy Priest!
After teaching the kids how to create, giving them the tools they needed to create, and then encouraged them to create, they did what kids do – They created. I was so proud of the canvases these kids did, many of them trying this art form for the first time. The older kids went first and so enjoyed it that they started to help our grade school kids do their paintings. The best part was I didn’t have to ask them to help the younger kids. As I sat back with blowtorch in hand waiting for the request, “Father, I need some fire!” I reveled in the communal support I saw in our young people. It reminded me that we are creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator whose creative, communal love of Father, Son, and Spirit loved us into existence. The canvases the kids made were like subtle fingerprints of the divine, realizing that carrying God’s image and likeness also means we reflect certain traits of the Creator: A community that loves through a creative act.
Here are a few images of the kid’s paintings. For those of you who are into psychology, you may find it interesting that I presented all the kids with the same six colors: White, Black, Blue, Aqua Blue, Yellow, and Burnt Umber. Despite this limited color spectrum, the kids presented wildly different canvases!
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What do you see when you look at the canvases? Some of the parents watching their children create these canvases used words like “space, dreamy, galactic” to describe their child’s art. Some spoke of how it reminded them of surface features of planets taken from outer space. Others gravitated to more simple explanations as “pretty” and “peaceful.” What everyone is always amazed at when I do these demonstrations is that no brushes are used and I encourage no preconceived “this is what I want the canvas to look like” mentalities before starting. I encourage them to not think of color combinations, but simply let the paint and the canvas point them to the road of the final image. One of the peaceful parts of this art form is the attentiveness that emerges as you become attuned to ever aspect of the process of creating this art.
One time, I saw a demonstration video that claimed that dirty pour art was amazing because it “Lets science do the painting.” Did science do the paintings you see above? No, the youth of Saint Olaf Parish did the paintings above. Science can be an interpretive language to describe the paintings, how the six colors I presented interacted with each other to create a far richer color pallet, how the inconsistencies of each canvas funneled the paint in different directions, how the kids movement of the canvas impacted the image, and so forth. Science can interpret these paintings through a certain set of eyes, but science, along with psychology, theology, and a various number of other -ologies, didn’t “do” the paintings. Kids did the paintings. Kids made in God’s image and likeness. Kids made by a Creator who loved them into existence. And kids who were given an opportunity to reflect that creative love in canvas and paint.
As someone who would consider himself to be “A Creative,” to quote the oft used cultural cliche, I find that the act of creating is essential for my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Whether it’s a painting, a piece of music, a picture I take with my camera, or a dish of food I make for friends, the act of creating something gives me a deep peace and connection with the Creator. When I let those creative faculties go dormant, I begin to see struggles in my emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
Should this surprise us that in order to be a healthy creation we need to participate in God’s creative act? Should it surprise us that we are a kind of “co-creator with God” that reflects the fecund vibrancy of God’s love as we constantly seek to create new expressions of that love in the world around us? And should it surprise us that, over time, we have developed a myriad of interpretive lenses to help understand this creative act like science, psychology, philosophy, and theology? And should we also be weary of attempts to reduce the creative process to one interpretive lens, potentially stripping from it a dimension of its vibrancy and beauty, leaving nothing more than a uninteresting, monochrome view of our world? The rich tapestry of our created world and our inner desire to create implies that we need to let our interpretive lenses also be a delicately woven tapestry that doesn’t reduce Creator and creation to mere categorical titles. Instead, we need to let the different languages of interpretation draw us into deeper wonder and awe at the beauty of God, God’s creative act, and our longing to share in that creative love.
How does God create? God creates through love, a Communion of Love that loved us into existence. It is a love that is continual and ongoing. And it is a love that is so deeply ingrained in us that we intuitively desire to share in that creative love. Do I see that creative love in each canvas our St. Olaf youth created last week? Yes, I do. However, I saw it even more present when, after experiencing the joy of doing good art, our high school and middle school students wanted to help our grade school students discover that same joy. It was this communal act of love that made me very proud to be their Pastor. The paintings are simply icons to remind me of that moment.
Spiritual Exercise: How is God calling you to love today? Pray with this and find a healthy way to share in God’s creative act of love. Do not let that act be stifled by categories that can make you feel inadequate or hesitant to share your creativity. Rather, allow the creative genius we all possess both express itself and connect itself with the Source of that creative desire: The Creator who loved you and me into existence.