“I am a writer and stories are what I do.”
How often have I said that? It’s true – my writing is my work – my craft, if you want to call it that. In a way, that does define me – storytelling makes me a writer, and that is something I take pride in. But at the back of my mind, I know there is another identity that claims me – my identity as a child of God, created by him, gifted by him, loved by him. Questions often swirl around my head: Am I allowed to be both? And if so, how do I live as a writer and child of God, on this broken dusty path toward redemption?
It begins by remembering that creativity does not begin with me. In Psalm 8:3-4, David stares upward into the night sky, wondering at it and at the One who made it. His impulse, as a song-writer, is to set those thoughts to music, singing out to the Maker for his glory:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
The Psalmist praised God for the works that he had done, the works that involved creation of both heavenly beings and human beings. Surely, the stars and the moon must be greater than us, he says, yet we are cared for uniquely by God, set apart in his creation for his work. There’s another acknowledgement here – work, for God, had to involve creation; not dissimilar to David’s act of writing the Psalm. If the work of God’s hands creates, it should not be surprising that our work also creates. Creation begins with God, but it does not end there. Grudem writes: “Our likeness to God is also illustrated by… the entire spectrum of human creative activity in such areas as art, music, literature, and science.” The call of the psalmist echoes our call, as creative beings, children of a Creative God: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90: 17)
That means that all work is creative. My writing craft is no more valuable than the time spent clearing a space on my desk. The hours spent on washing dishes are as creative as when I’m taking photos. One housemate sits on the sofa in the evenings colouring in her sketches; another would rather clear the living room and hang up fairy lights. Both are urges of creativity, making beauty and order out of a broken world. Madeleine L’Engle wrote “unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint of clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.” Wayne Gruden similarly speaks of our desire to create after God’s creation, whether that is through art, music and literature, or gardening, decorating, and cooking. “In all of these activities,” he writes, “we reflect in small measure the creative activity of God, and we should delight in it and thank him for it." We are called as the body of Christ to “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:5-6) Paul goes on to call each member of this body to their own creative works in service to God– it is only in this that unity can be found. As a writer, I stand united by my fellow creators in God’s service, the painters and the plumbers, the students and the singers. We are all for his glory.
At the same time, I cannot divide my activities into “God’s activities” and “not God’s.” Ranauld Macauley disparages the idea “that life divides into two categories, the sacred and the secular.” Sitting in a Christian Union meeting is no more sacred than sitting at home. Preparing a bible talk for an evangelistic event is not more “God’s work” than writing a poem. Andrew Peterson speaks of two quotes that impacted him in this matter. The first was Wendall Berry’s “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” And the second, from a wise man “Christianity ought to be as normal in your home as dirty laundry and cornflakes.” For him, the journey to reclaiming that vision starts with remembering – “to remember the dream of Eden that shimmers at the edges of things, to remember that the madman on the corner was made in God’s image, to remember that work and play and suffering and celebration are all sentences in a good story being told by God, a story arcing its way to a new creation.” This is Andrew’s introduction to the wonderful “Every Moment Holy”, by Douglas McKelvey, which echoes that theme, featuring prayers for all kinds of sacred occasions: domestic days, where we can pray “meet me therefore, O Lord, in the doing of small, repetitive tasks,” or gardening, where we cry “may this plot of ground become a hallowed space and these hours a sacred time for reflection.” If “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps 24:1), then surely that means everything, from our chores to our choruses. From this, Paul concludes “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
“In your heart set apart Christ as Lord” Peter writes, and surely that means in creating too, we must revere God, working for his glory, seeking to honour him. It does not mean that it will be easy. Creation is painful, because that is what the process of creating something has entailed since the Fall. As Andrew Peterson rightly points out “Making something beautiful in this broken world can be harrowing work. And it can’t be done alone.” He helpfully points to Bach who, in his music making, wrote at the end of each piece “S. D. G.” Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone. Andrew writes: “What you may not know is that at the top of his manuscripts he wrote, “Jesu Juva”, which is Latin for, “Jesus, help!” There’s no better prayer for the start of an adventure. Jesus, you are the source of beauty, help us make something beautiful; Jesus, you are the Word that was with God in the beginning, the Word that made all creation: give us words and be with us in this beginning of this creation; Jesus you are the light of the world: light our way into this mystery”
And that, essentially, is the process of creation in this broken world. At the beginning, we look first to our Creator for help, longing that he might illuminate our darkness and bring forth words, acknowledging that all beauty, order, goodness comes first from him. I need that every time I set out to conquer a story, pour over the bible with someone, or move a mountain of laundry. But at the end, as I lay down my pen, bible, or washing basket, I take a quick moment to acknowledge God again, thanking him for the work of his hands and the work of my own. One of my favourite songs as a small child began like this: “If I were a butterfly, I'd thank you, Lord, for giving me wings,” and went through the animal kingdom, concluding “But I just thank you, Father, for making me 'me'.” So, if I am not a butterfly, or a robin, or a fish, but a writer, might I not thank God for making me who I am, and live for the praise of his glory?