When the beginning began, the canvas of the earth was formless: blank and silent. The Creator, lavish in imagination, steps to the threshold.
In C.S. Lewisʼ The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the Lion sings creation into existence. So, in Genesis 1, God sings his creation song into the formless silence.
Ex nihilo, out of nothing, the brilliance of light and the splendor of sky burst forth. The greens, reds, and blues of land and sea emerge.
And it is all good. Unimaginably good. In fact, Genesis 1 is as much a story about the goodness of creation as it is the song of creation. “It is good, it is good, it is unimaginably good,” repeats the thunderous refrain. The author of Genesis had neither the time nor the papyrus to provide explicit detail of the creation event. Presented to us is just a highlight. Hopefully someday, in the new heaven and the new earth to come, we will be treated to the Director’s cut.
Until then, we have only our imagination. Perhaps when God decided it was time to decorate the greens of the fields with the whites of dandelions, He stepped to the threshold and sang, “Dandelion number one!”
Ex nihilo, Dandelion number one appears. And God roared with utter joy. “It is good! It is good! It is unimaginably good!”
After the celebration over the goodness of dandelion number one, God decided to sing into existence dandelion number two.
Ex nihilo, Dandelion number two appears. Again, God roared with utter joy. “It is good! It is good! It is unimaginably good!” (1)
So forth and so on does God celebrate over the creation of all 2.4 billion dandelions.
From there, God continues his song of creation and celebration: shagbark hickory trees, narrowleaf cottonwoods, one-eyed sphinx caterpillars and fat tailed dwarf lemurs.
In Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes, “After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on proﬂigacies with ever-fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.” (2)
It is good! It is good! It is unimaginably good!
The canvas’ formlessness has been commandeered by a beauty that is wild and alive and dangerous, full of ever-fresh vigor… extravagancy upon extravagancy. It is unimaginably good!
But God is not finished: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” (3)
Surely the Creator experienced with great delight the opening of Adam’s eyes – finally someone to stand in breathless wonder at the extravagancies and intricacies of God’s handiwork.
In the early twentieth century, doctors discovered how to remove cataracts from the vision impaired. Surgeons traveled across Europe and America operating on dozens of men and women who had been blinded by cataracts since birth.
Annie Dillard shares the story of one of the patients.
“Finally, a twenty-two old girl was dazzled by the world’s brightness and kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When at the end of that time she opened her eyes again, she did not recognize any objects, but, ‘the more she now directed her gaze upon everything about her, the more it could be seen that an expression of gratification and astonishment overspread her features; she repeatedly exclaimed, ‘Oh God! How beautiful!’” (4)
How could anything but an expression of gratiﬁcation and astonishment overspread the features of Adam? I would like to think that those were the first words of the first man, “Oh God! How beautiful!” And, perhaps, for the first few weeks of life, human language was limited only to those four words. What else was needed?
Genesis 2 tells of Adam’s reaction when his eyes fell upon Eve for the first time. Here we are introduced to the first recorded words of man. Appropriately enough, they are a song.
“At last! This is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!” (5)
The response is a spontaneous celebration. Adam sings a song of delight and thanksgiving, with all of the passion and energy of early 1970’s Marvin Gaye and Al Green.
Oh God! How beautiful!
Of course Adam responds by creating a song. He has been crafted in the image of his creator – The Artist with a lavish imagination, one who deals in extravagancies.
Adam bears the image of this God.
You and I bear the image of this God.
We are crafted in the image of a God who creates.
By nature, we are all artists. Every last one of us.
Some are enlivened by this truth. Others cringe at the thought…
“Well, Iʼm certainly not creative!”
Yes, you are.
When you were a child, you painted pictures of rainbows and ballerinas. You made up songs about ice cream and horses. You danced to Motown classics and the jingles of Barney the dinosaur. No one forced you or even taught you to do these things. You just did them.
Why? Because you were made in the image of a God who looked into the formless void and created the quaking Aspen.
Madeleine LʼEngle reminds us “The important thing is that creation is God’s and that we are part of it, and being part of creation is for us to be co-creators with [God] in the continuing joy of new creation.” (6)
You created because we were made in God’s image, and to be human is to create.
And let me be very honest. Most of you were not very good at your craft, at least not by the standards of professionals. Your lines were shaky, and your color choices were questionable. Your songs lacked good meter and your rhyming patters were inconsistent. Your dances were predictable, and they were short in panache.
But did any of that matter? Of course not! You painted and sang and danced because it was a natural response to being human. Technical merit did not matter, only creating.
Finley Eversole writes, “In our society, at the age of five, 90 percent of the population measures in ‘high creativity.’ By the age of seven, the figure has dropped to 10 percent. And the percentage of adults with high creativity is only two percent! Our creativity is destroyed not through the use of outside force but through criticism, innuendo.” (7)
Maybe that is why Jesus tells us that we must change and become like children.
A number of years ago I read an interview with Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco. Tweedy talked about the creative act and how the pressure to make something “great” and “important” had prevented him from the very thing he loved to do the most… writing songs. This pressure found relief as Tweedy learned from his children:
Its no different if I lie on the floor and draw with my kids. They don’t care about anything other than drawing. It’s not good or bad. When you’re done, you put it on the fridge. You know? I think we should try to spend more time hanging things on the fridge. (8)
Preach on, Jeff Tweedy. Preach on.
We who are created in the image of God,
We who believe in a God who became flesh,
We who follow Jesus, the greatest storyteller ever known,
We who celebrate a God who calls forth resurrection from death,
We who are animated by the Spirit of God,
We who believe in a God who is making all things new…
We, more than any other people, should be a people of wild creativity.
So, in the name of the Creator, go forth. Without fear, look into the formlessness of that empty dance floor, blank canvas, white page, black soil, empty-weave fabric or barren stove-top. Go forth, childlike, and dance, paint, write, garden, needlepoint, and cook.
In the name of the Creator, spend more time hanging things on the fridge. Amen.
1. My thanks to Tony Campolo, who introduced me to the possibility of this kind of celebration.
2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 9.
3. Genesis 1:26.
4. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Here Dillard quotes Dr. Marius von Senden from his book Space and Sight.
5. Genesis 2:23, Complete Jewish Bible.
6. Quoted from The Creative Call: An Artist’s Response to the Way of the Spirit by Janice Elsheimer
7. Quoted from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine LʼEngle, p.72
8. DIW Magazine, April 2003
Written by Don Vanderslice, pastor of Mosaic Austin. He is married to Emily, and they have two children, Jackson and Allison.
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