One of the tenets of Christianity is that God has called on human beings to be creative and, even more, in some sense to be co-creators with God.
This is why, in the book of Genesis, we see God giving people the responsibility for naming animals. Indeed, Genesis 2:19 says that after God "formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky (God) brought them to the human to see what he would name them."
Names in early Hebrew culture were profoundly important. They were part of the reality of whatever was named. Names had power. Names were revelatory. It's one reason Jews even today are so careful about any name by which God may be known. Indeed, they generally avoid calling God by any name at all except, perhaps, Hashem, which literally means "The Name."
The call to be creative has led people into the arts, led them to be careful craftsmen, to be poets and composers and painters. To say nothing of being woodworkers, sculptors, welders and blacksmiths.
In his lovely new book (to be published soon), Walt Harrington, celebrates these creators. Acts of Creation: America's Finest Hand Craftsmen at Work may seem at first like simply an introduction to people who have devoted their lives to beautiful craftsmenship. And it is that. But, beyond that, it evokes the spiritual call that all of humanity has to be creative.
Late in the book, for instance, he describes the commitment to excellence of a ceramics artist named Peter King.
"Pride," Harrington writes, "isn't the source of his excellence, Peter says. Pride is instead a product of doing something as close to perfectly as he can: 'It is an indescribable feeling. It's not because others say it's great. It's inernal. The Bible says man was made in the image of God. That doesn't mean He has two arms and legs. It means that, like God, the most important thing we do is create. It's deep in us, somewhere near the brain stem. When I finally get a piece on the wall, it's there: a physical entity. It was once an idea, and now it won't go away. I made stone out of my fingertips. That kind of power is seductive. That's why God made man out of clay."
After Ash Wednesday yesterday that began the Christian season of Lent, Harrington's book (which would have been even better with photos showing some of the work of these artists) can be a reminder not just that we are dust and to dust we will return but also that before we return to dust we are called to create beauty.
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A NIEBUHRIAN TONE AT STATE
The head of the U.S. State Department's Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, Shaun Casey, is an interesting guy, as this interview makes evident. Plus, it gives you a chance to renew what you know about Reinhold Niebuhr, one of Barack Obama's favorite theologians.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it click here.