A Literary Digression

A Literary Digression January 20, 2015

As you might expect of a movie critic, I watch a lot of movies. Denver hosts most of the advanced screenings in my neck of the woods, which means I drive up to the Mile-High City a couple of times a week. Sometimes I’m rewarded with a good movie. But even when the movie’s not so hot, I at least have the pleasure of a good book beforehand.

Tonight, I’m reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.

There are certain writers who have such a command of language that I wonder whether they speak the same English that you and I do. Steinbeck is one of those writers–a novelist who speaks with such eloquence, authority and insight that certain passages that leave me feeling richer … blessed to have read them.

Take this passage from Chapter 13:

Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.

It’s a resonant passage for many of us, maybe, working in worlds where every thought or idea is discussed and dissected, twisted and sometimes obliterated by groups and committees. We live in a risk-averse age wherein originality is often squelched in favor of a safe, familiar formula–an age of reboots and remakes and Transformer sequels. Sure, some originality does eke through the cracks sometimes, but it’s rare and remarkable. And perhaps it always has been.

But I feel more than just a shared lament for creative individuality here in Steinbeck’s passage: I see, perhaps, a fingerprint of God.

east of edenSteinbeck was not a man of strong Christian belief, I don’t think, but he wrote about faith all the time. The name of the book references a passage in Genesis–the the Land of Nod, where Cain settled after killing his brother Abel. Here, Steinbeck talks about the “miracle of creation,” and that is what almost all creation is: A miracle. Think about all the miracles we read about in the Bible: The light from darkness in Genesis, the life from death of the Gospels. Most of the miracles we see are explicit acts of creation. And as such, the fact that we humans have a desire to create (in our own limited way) is a miracle, too.

When we’re told that we’re made in God’s image, this is the area in which we reflect God the clearest: We both create. Honestly, I don’t believe we necessarily look like God. We can’t truly think as God would. But we do make things, a little like God did. We can feel the thrill of bringing something new to the world–not like a tree or a mountain, maybe, but a song or a painting or a house or even a blog post. When we create, we participate in a little miracle. Our children feel the joy of creation when they crack open their first can of Play-Doh and roll the putty into a snake. We feel a lightness in us when we build or paint or even dream–creating futures in our minds.

And even when we’re not creating, we can still feel the vicarious thrill of the act when we enjoy a well-made creation. A book by Steinbeck, for instance. We can feel the brilliance of it. We enjoy something made by a master, and in so doing, we brush the fringe of heaven. We see that, even the barest of building blocks–consonants and vowels and dots of punctuation–beauty can be built, a beauty that gives us just the barest hint of the inspiring awe beyond our understanding.

We cannot completely understand our God. If we could, He wouldn’t be God. But we can understand, in our own dim way, the satisfaction of creation. That’s a remarkable thing. And when we create, I think, we find ourselves in a thin place–a place a bit closer to God.

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