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Spirit Story

Acts of creation

By Paul Knowles

It’s only seven words long, but it’s a complicated, confounding statement: “Let us make humanity in our image” (Genesis 1:26). In a word: huh?

There are two weighty elements here. There’s the whole “image” business, with all its implications for us flesh-and-blood mortals, and then there’s the “our,” since here we have God self-referencing in the plural — hinting, perhaps, at the Trinity.

At the risk of wild presumption, I have been involved in two projects recently that have given me a new appreciation for God as Creator. Though I’ve been a writer all my life, these two acts of literary creation are the most satisfying I have known.

The first was my mystery novel, Death on the Dun. It is a unique process, writing a novel. I had no idea. I created two characters, Ed and Kate, who are the centre of the story, and then others who populate their world.

At some point, these characters took over the creative process. They began to do and say things I did not expect. They initiated relationships. Their personalities developed quite outside my imaginings. Ed started to swear, and I could not stop him.

My 86-year-old mother wondered why I had not told her about my novel. “Because there is sex and swearing,” I said. “So I hear,” she said with a frown. Thus ended that conversation.

I was the creator, but from the moment the characters came to be, I was no longer in control. Things unfolded on my computer screen that I had not planned, but they were right. I began to very much care about my creations.

So, I wonder: is this a workable analogy for the complexity of God as a Creator who nonetheless lets us run free? Because, having made us, God loves us? Hmm.

Then there’s “in our image.” My most recent project is all about “our.” I wrote the lyrics for The River Rolls — 14 songs linked by narration, telling the story of the history of Ontario’s Waterloo Region.

I pitched the idea to two friends. Charlene Nafziger is a superb pianist who plays for the Stratford Festival and is now the music director at Thamesview United in Fullarton, Ont. Mike Erb, a New Hamburg neighbour, is one of those people who can pick up any instrument and produce beautiful music minutes later.

They took the lyrics, challenged some of them and made music. We brought wonderful musicians into the process and performed the work in concert. Businesspeople offered sponsorship money, unsolicited, to perform it again. We did. We made a recording and created a website for students. With every step, the piece grew and improved. We no longer know who was responsible for the best bits. We also don’t care. It is no longer mine; it is “ours.”

What does all this say about “our image”? Does it solve the mystery of the Trinity? Of course not. But it does help me to reflect on the creative collaboration of Creator, Saviour and Spirit; perhaps it even offers a glimpse of our role as co-creators. In our challenging times, that can seem an onerous responsibility. It is a big job, but collaborative creation is also the most rapturous, joyous experience imaginable.

Paul Knowles is an author in New Hamburg, Ont.

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