Today’s first reading from Proverbs is a delight:
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago…
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth…
When he established the heavens, I was there,…
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always
Rejoicing in his inhabited world
And delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:22, 25, 27, 30-31)
This biblical passage shows God and human engaged simultaneously in the same creativity. An interesting footnote to “like a master worker” in the NRSV translation says “like a little child.” Perhaps the two aren’t so different. They are equally fearless, totally absorbed, and thoroughly given over to delight. C.G. Jung writes, “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
Just as the baker gives his child a small ball of dough or a potter gives her child a lump of clay, so the child happily does the same work on a lesser scale. Latina cooks learn to make tortillas besides a mother or grandmother who weighs the ingredients in her hands and teaches them by example how to shape the perfect circle. In European museums, apprentices often cluster in front of masterpieces, learning to paint through imitation. So we, in a specific art or an artful life, imitate the work of God. Our happiness springs from God’s presence beside us, our parallel activity.
What is true of God’s creativity and ours is also true of the faithful life. Grace is essential: sometimes an unanticipated shift of direction, a new friendship or idea, a sudden phone call can make all the difference. Originality or uniqueness is also central. In literature we call it voice. No one familiar with their writing would confuse Milton and Shakespeare, or mistake Hemingway for Faulkner.
So in art the styles of Rembrandt and Monet are decidedly different. One who knows the music of Schubert wouldn’t think it had been written by Handel. No self-respecting music lover would confuse U2 with The Rolling Stones. Even musicians or writers of the same era place their distinctive mark upon a piece.
“But,” some may protest. “Isn’t faith a more dogged matter of keeping rules and attending religious services?” Nothing wrong with that.
Approaching faith through the arts is a different lens, the distinction made by Alejandro Garcia-Rivera between “textbook theology” and the living theology we remember better: of story, image and song. (A Wounded Innocence. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003, viii)
If we have inherited a treasure in our faith, as we say we believe, then why do we live like paupers? If we have such a short time on earth, why do we squander it? Let’s paint, as beautifully as we can, the canvas of our lives.