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We are at the end of the Modern Age. Doomsayers decry humankind as the scourge of the earth. It would have been better had we not existed. Our spiritual dimension searches for God in the developing chaos. We search our heritage for the meaning of the events that are so evident before us, looking for signs of hope that the new world aborning will be a better place to live. We want a message explaining that there is purpose, that we aren’t just an accident or an experiment gone wrong. As we experience the throes of death, rebirth, redirection, and the hope of resurrection, we listen for a voice that will speak to us of God, which will affirm the meaning of our existence.
The Bible opens with the glorious description of creation: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. As I read this story in Genesis, I reflect on a basic element of my engineering training, the study of geology. The separation and movement of the continents from a single land mass called Pangaea to the seven we know today, has become the fundamental concept in assessing geologic history and processes. What we know of the earth’s history from this relatively new discovery and from the older studies of paleontology, underscores the incredible insight the authors of Genesis had regarding creation, a literal interpretation of which so underestimates its power and scope.
Genesis tells us that, after God created the Earth, he created humankind and instructed our first parents:Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. Our thirst for knowledge resulted in our loss of the earthly paradise: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.
Much is read into the words subdue and dominion. Some hold that humankind has been going wrong since we evolved from hunter-gatherers to ranchers and farmers, tilling the ground from which we were taken. But how did we go wrong, if indeed we did?
The notion of co-creators with God has always appealed to me. But the creative process has had its cost. We have learned to recognize its negative aspects. I have been personally involved in undoing or repairing the harm we have caused our earth by our excessive exuberance for creating, and this work has given me pause to reflect on our co-creative role.
My reflection has brought me to the Middle Ages, particularly the cathedral-building era. They are overwhelming in their size, complexity of design, and, above all, beauty. The love that went into their construction is undeniable. We might make a case that it was after this point in history that we lost control of our creative energies. The Renaissance followed with its explosion of learning. This fueled the Industrial Revolution, during which the earth wassubdued and dominated in grand fashion, ending in our own era of addictive consumerism. And we are now at the beginning of what some call the Information Age. Will it threaten an already precarious creation?
It is hard not to conclude that our co-creativity has run amok. But I see a thread in our work that reflects the glory and perfection of God’s creative process. The more we are motivated by greed to exercise control over nature, the more we stray from that thread. Where we are motivated by solidarity to coexist with it, we do our best work.
Many things in our creation speak very directly to me of God: Salisbury Cathedral, the clipper ship “Flying Cloud,” my own fourteen-foot sloop. But if I were to choose one thing to represent the inspired elegance of human creativity, it would be the violin. I see it as a culmination of the co-creative process. It has no purpose for existence except to provide beauty in the form of sound. I have learned to appreciate the beauty of those instruments whether in the hands of a gifted professional or an enthusiastic amateur. The violin evolved over a period of six or seven hundred years. It reached its peak of perfection in the 1600s with the Amati family and their pupil, Antonio Stradivari. It has not been improved upon since. It brings together the gifts of the craftsman, the composer, and the musician. The unseen sounds grace listeners much in the way the gifts of the Holy Spirit grace us with God’s love. The violin speaks to me of God. It is like that still small voice Elijah heard on Horeb, an affirmation of our role as co-creators, the reason for our existence.
I find hope in the voice of the violin and solace in the comment of an unknown author in The Desiderata: “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” We are onlybeginning to understand this, and our role in it.
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