On Making and Creating

By Fr. Richard Ganz, S.J.

Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words.
–St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

Long ago, while in the first semester of my theological training, we were required to take a course called “An Introduction to the Old Testament.” I have never taken a “survey” course that was much use—all breadth, no depth. And when we are talking about a biblical course offered without depth, well, that’s just missing the whole point. However, I am grateful to say that at least one thought stuck with me from that course, and it was this.

The professor told us that only God can be the subject of the verb to create, while human beings can be the subject of the verb to make. He went on to insist on the doctrinal importance of creatio ex nihilo—God created all things out of nothing—which was meant to articulate a fundamental difference between God and humans. God creates from nothing; humans make something out of something.

Expounding whether such an academic precision holds is not this essay’s purpose. Neither is it my purpose here to account properly for the Church’s doctrine concerning the creation of the universe—the ultimate “work of art”! Rather, my purpose is to wonder about the nature of the creative process as something with which both God and human beings are involved. A caveat here: this essay is written by a man of letters who cares about the visual arts enough to write about what he sees in such works, not by a man able to express himself in visual arts.

grand-design-contra-hawking
Cameron J. Anderson, Grand Design (Contra Hawking), enamel on Baltic birch panel.

Sorting out the Verbs

To create means “to bring into being, cause to exist; esp. to produce where nothing was before.”[1] But let us notice that the etymology of this English verb lies in the Latin verb creāre which means “to procreate” when referring to the action of the male and “to give birth” when referring to the action of the female. In other words, our verb “to create” has its meaning sourced in that most intimate exchange of fruitful human love. This act is mutual self-giving and a practice towards an undefended openness in the presence of one’s beloved. We could say that God’s creating is a comprehensively relational deed, by which God does (love) what God is (Love). We might provocatively say that God’s sole reason for creating is to make love exist.

Which is something subtly different than a Maker who loves making.

To make means “to produce (a material thing) by combination of parts, or by giving a certain form to a portion of matter, to manufacture; to construct, assemble, frame, fashion.”[2] The Oxford English Dictionary traces “make” to an Indo-European base that means “to knead with one’s hands.” Perhaps we think of a potter kneading the clay in his or her skillful hands, feeling for or seeing the form in that which is still formless.

The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him (Jer. 18:4 NRSVCE).

To make implies an acceptance by a maker of the givenness of things. And so we say that an artist discovers his or her medium—”the material, techniques, and modes of expression used in creative activity.”[3] The medium is, as the word suggests, an intermediary between the maker’s inner vision (both of human feeling and of seeing) and his or her art, by which the truth of something is not expressed so much as it is revealed.

Three Thoughts

A Maker makes. And what a maker makes is, in this case, art. And the maker’s purpose is to accomplish a work that is finished: “Yes, that’s it. That is what I wanted, or, as close as I can get to what I sense and see. I’m done with it.” A Creator creates. Yet what a Creator creates are works of art that keep happening, that keep unfolding, whose essential beauty, mystery, and perfection (which technically means “finished”) comes from their nature as unfinished, as still appearing.

A Maker must make. That is, a maker knows (a felt-knowledge, an internal fire, an experience of necessity) that something dies in him or her if the making stops or is hindered. In his famous poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1889) wrote:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.[5]

It is through his or her concrete making that the maker is closest to being his or her true self—“What I do is me: for that I came”—and can gain the clearest sense that he or she is a being still in the process of happening. Through making, a person experiences himself or herself as created—as something still on the way, unfinished.

A Maker may unmake. The philosophical category of Time captures the essential revisability of a human person, and of the works that he or she accomplishes. As the artist is able to know when a work is complete—“Yes, that’s it.”—so also an artist knows when a work is not yet accomplished, or obtuse, or even poorly executed. And so, on the one hand, a maker may unmake a work for the sake of remaking it better.

God the Creator, in contrast, creates but never un-creates. Rather, when some aspect of the created world blocks the unfolding of His work, God thinks deeper and discovers a way to include the obstruction within some deeper vision of the whole. And so it happens. The obstruction is no longer that but simply part of an even more complex and beautiful unfolding, a more richly textured creation, a reflection of the never-ending creativity of the Creator.

[1] “create, v.”. OED online. Accessed September 2016. Oxford University Press.
[2] “make, v.1”. OED online. Accessed September 2016. Oxford University Press.
[3] “medium, n, and adj.”. OED online. Accessed September 2016. Oxford University Press.
[4] The philosopher Susanne (Knauth) Langer (1895-1985) argued that such “feeling” does not refer particularly to the personal feelings of the artist. Rather this is about an artist’s heightened capacity to notice human feeling, to know about it through long experience, and to reveal it in a work of art.
[5] Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985).

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Fr. Rick Ganz, S.J. has been a Jesuit (Catholic) priest for forty-two years. He is a widely requested speaker, a retreat master, a spiritual director, a writer, and is the founder and director of the (St. Peter) Faber Institute located in Portland, Oregon.

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