Our urge to make stuff tells us something important.
When COVID-19 first hit, and it started to dawn on us that life-as-usual might be cancelled for a while, I noticed something weird.
People were crafting.
Seriously. A scroll through social media in the early days of the pandemic revealed all manner of projects. Knitting. Painting. Beading. Landscaping. Sourdough-ing.
Faced with something that felt a bit like the end of the world, many folks experienced an urge to create.
Personally, I was immune to the crafting wave. I lack the crafting gene. Even my stick figures are subpar. I remember struggling in my kindergarten class to make the kid-friendly scissors work. More than once I raised my hand to ask my teacher if perhaps I’d been erroneously given the left-handed scissors, only to be told: "No, sweetie, you just find Art Time a bit hard." It was true then, and it’s true now. I can’t craft.
Still, if I was free of the instinct to knit or paint during quarantine, I was not immune to the impulse to make stuff. I’m better with a guitar than scissors, so I started writing new songs, haltingly at first, and then almost uncontrollably. My family probably would have been happier if I’d been seized by the need to make sourdough, but we work with what we’ve got.
In Walking on Water (Penguin Randon House, 1980), Madeleine L’Engle’s wonderful book on faith and art, L’Engle borrows from Leonard Bernstein to define creativity as making "cosmos in chaos." A poem or a painting – or a loaf of bread for that matter – comes into being and intrinsically possesses an order and meaning that defy the apparent randomness of life. So maybe it makes sense that, faced with the chaos of the coronavirus and its global effects, many of us discovered a near-primal instinct to create our own little patches of cosmos.
Of course, even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, noticing and nurturing the creative impulse is important. It matters for our mental health. It makes us resourceful and innovative as a species. And it tells us something of immeasurable importance about who we are.
The first five words of the Bible are: "In the beginning, God created." Even before the biblical writers tell us that God is infinite or omnipresent, they tell us He is creative. So it only makes sense that we, His little image bearers, are designed to flourish when we exercise our own creativity.
And this applies whether we are crafty or not. The author Gary Molander says that just as God hovered over the formless deep and began to fill it with expressions of Himself, you and I are creative whenever we notice a void and fill it with something of ourselves. The artists among us fill the void with art, but that’s just one of a million ways to do it.
God tells them to resist the urge to hunker down and abandon their creativity, but instead keep making cosmos in chaos.
It could be the way you turn a business proposal into a thing of beauty, or last night’s leftovers into something tasty, or a sibling war into a family game night. There’s no such thing as an uncreative person, because there is no one who does not bear the image of the Creator.
I don’t hear quite as much crafttalk now as I did early in the pandemic. No doubt we’ve all grown more than a little weary. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I keep thinking that the measures necessary to contain the coronavirus have put us into a kind of exile.
So I’ve been reading and re-reading the letter God wrote through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon who were beginning to lose heart. The one where God tells them to resist the urge to hunker down and abandon their creativity, but instead keep making cosmos in chaos – to build houses, plant gardens, and seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:4–7).
While much is uncertain about 2021, we can know without a doubt there will still be chaos to wrangle and voids to fill. So, let there be building and gardening and problem-solving and lesson-planning and column-writing and songwriting and baking and yes, even crafting. Our urge to make stuff comes from our Maker – and it’s a sign that, even now, He is making all things new (Revelation 21:5).