We are THRILLED to be featuring a guest post by Bette Dickinson this week! A visual artist, Bette has a beautiful take on how God’s identity as a creator interacts with our identity as creative artists. Enjoy!
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.Genesis 1:1-2
As an artist, I have always been curious about God’s creative process. What medium did he choose? How long did He hover above the nothingness before speaking creation into being? Did He sing as He created? Did creation emerge from the singing like in the Narnia tales?
As an artist I’m curious about these things because I love to create, but I am also curious because I am His creation, and I believe paying attention to the way God formed the universe gives us a pathway to discover how God continues to form us.
God didn’t just make the world and then set it on a shelf for display. It’s continually in motion – in the act of being created, recreated, and unfolded as we speak. Even at the end of the story, in Revelation, God says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5
What if God is inviting us to be swept up into the creative process that He is involved in around us? What if the new creation He is forming us to become isn’t a one time act, but something we continually must unfold into?
I believe God as the master artist is intimately involved in His creation all the time – molding and shaping, writing and directing, and singing our stories into being. And we are invited to either collaborate with Him in this work or resist it.
God’s creative process
In this blog series, we will begin to draw out some key principles within the created order that will aid us in the discovery of ourselves and who we were meant to be. We will explore certain truths about God’s creative activity in the world as it continues to unfold. And as an artist, I’ll throw in my two cents here and there about my own artistic process and what this has taught be about the way God works to form us.
Paying attention to these clues within creation can unlock some sacred truths about who God is and who we are. And I hope, will show us the way forward to become who we were made to be.
But like William Blake, we must be willing to:
“See a World in a Grain of Sand.
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.
And Eternity in an hour.”
So – how do we begin? What can we learn about God’s creative process that might help us understand how He forms us?
I believe we must start at the beginning – with the foundation of the earth.
By definition, a foundation lays the groundwork for what comes later. Without it, the rest of the structure will fall apart. It’s important to remember that while human beings may be the pinnacle of God’s creation, we were placed within a context: earth. And understanding that context, like understanding the setting of a play or book, is critical to understanding the characters within it.
Woven into the fabric of creation are truths to who God is and who we are.
Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.Romans 1:20
If God’s invisible qualities are clearly seen in creation, then the question is…are we looking?
Do we perceive what creation is trying to tell us about who God is and who we are?
Let’s look closely at how creation began.
“In the beginning, God created.” – Genesis 1:1
Creation and creativity emerge from being. Creation was simply an overflow of who God is – He is a creator and it is the most natural thing for him to create.
And we, formed in His image, are creators too. This is who we are.
This word for “created,” בָּרָא bârâʼ is often translated “to cut, carve out, to form by cutting.” This reminds me of a famous quote by Michaelangelo about his creative process for forming the David,
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to just cut away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”
God looked into the void with compassion and saw something there. We were loved before creation even began. We existed in the heart of God and he carved us out.
The raw materials of creation
But what did He carve the world from if there were no raw materials – no marble, not even dust?
Theologians agree that God created out of nothing. And this is true in the physical sense – the materials of creation were literally formed out of nothing “ex nihilo.” But, in another sense, it isn’t entirely true that God formed something from nothing. He cut creation out of his very self. The heavens and earth were formed from the heart of God.
Every artist knows this. What you create is a piece of yourself given over in love – in love for the thing you created and in love to those who receive it as a gift.
God yielded part of who He is to the act of creating the world – His vision, his imagination, his time, his words, and ultimately, His hands and spirit in creating us. We get a beautiful word picture of how this all started in the next verse:
“The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” – Genesis 1:2
This word “hover,” is רָחַף râchaph can be translated “to be moved, affected, specifically with the feeling of tender love, to cherish. It is the same word picture as a mother eagle who flutters over her young ones, cherishing them. (ref: Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon)
God cherished His creation before it even began. In his heart, He had a dream – a desire for creation that came out of an overflow of love within the godhead. And out of that love, he spoke, “Let there be.”
God himself, His love – is the life source for all things. He created from His love and He sustains all of creation with this love.
So – What does this mean for us as beings created in His image?
While we don’t form raw materials “ex nihilo” as God did – our creative process ought to mirror God’s creative process.
The Source of All Creation
Love is the lifeblood of all creation. It is the source through which all life flows. It is the beginning of all good things emerging in the world.
Whenever I step into my studio, I stare at my blank claybords for a long time. In my mind I am dreaming, I am wondering, I am hovering and brooding like a mother Eagle above something cherished in my heart that has not yet found its way into the paints.
But it will.
And when I create – I create from my very self.
And if I am surrendered, it is not me who is doing the creating. It is the source – God himself who takes the raw materials He has given me. Not just the physical materials of paint, but also the dust of my body. My story, my experiences, my emotions and thoughts. All of it is raw material God uses to pour out on canvas.
The work overflows from the love of God within me through the love of the work itself (creation), and finally, poured out in love for my neighbor.
God is always creating and re-creating us from His love for us. His Spirit is still fluttering over us like that mother Eagle. He has never stopped. And He never will. He is set on us continuing to unfold us from His love into who we were created to be.
In this way, we reflect God’s image when we create from love. This is the foundational principle to all the creative work we will invest in on this earth. And I don’t just mean those who create works of art. I mean every creative act we do on this earth.
Every thought we have toward another human that is filled with a desire for their wholeness.
Every spaghetti dinner we prepare with intentionality for our family.
Every business dream that came as an idea in the thick of night.
Every word spoken over the people in our lives.
Every weed we pull or seed we plant.
If it is led from love and to love, it is from God himself. It is a foundational principle for what it means to be human. We were formed from love and by extension – He forms from love through us.
An extra word from Bette:
These past couple years may have taken a toll on you. If you’ve been looking for a creative resource to help you process the grief and pain from the last few months, I’ve created something for you: the Seeds of Hope Lament Guide to help you write your own lament.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to subscribe!
Looking for more? Check out Art + Faith + Work: An Interview with Bette Dickinson
PC: Alexander Andrews on Unsplash; Steve Barker on Unsplash