“God builds up a shrine within us of His workmanship, from the day in which Jesus was received. The seed-vessel is its picture. With the old nature He can have nothing to do except to deliver it to death: no improving can fit it for His purpose, any more than the leaf or tendril however beautiful, can be the receptacle of the seed. There must be ‘a new creation,’ ‘the new man,’ to be the temple of the Divine Life.” Parables of the Christ-life
It was the summer of 1983. We were working our way up the eastern coast, stopping at B & B’s, along the way toward our destination: a family reunion on Cape Cod. As we were skirting Washington D.C., Dave succumbed to my pleas to stop at the Washington Cathedral – “Just one hour. Promise.” – to fulfill my dream of seeing the then recently completed Creation tympanum over the main doors of the West facade.
This sculpture had taken my heart from the first article I read about Frederick Hart’s prize-winning design for the portrayal of the Biblical creation. The eight “unfinished” figures emerging from stone, writhing with the agony of “being created,” touched a deep place in my soul. It had been, for me, a challenging year on several fronts and somehow this sculpture captured the very quiddity of the on-going work of creation, making sense of what were, in reality, “trials” – not “tribulations.”
The children were only too glad to have a hour outside the confines of the car. Dave found a bench to read and nap. I was alone, on pilgrimage, and even if only for one hour, at liberty to study this masterpiece within a massive arch, towering above the great double doors of the Cathedral.
It did not disappoint. Most compelling to me was the sculptor’s vision of creation not as a finished work but as a process: a state of becoming. Evident in the figures and faces of force and beauty was struggle: bodies emerging out of the nothingness of chaos caught in a moment of transformation. Frederick Hart, in his own words, conceived his Creation Sculpture “as an eloquent metaphor for humankind always ‘becoming,’ ever in a state of rebirth and reaffirmation of all the possibilities in being human.”
Time up. I purchased postcards of the Creation Tympanum, souvenir of these sacred moments and a reminder of the life-giving message inherent in those unfinished figures emerging from stone. Being created. Becoming. Years later I purchased a facsimile of the same, and mounted it over the lintel of our dining room doorway – under which I pass countless times a day.
Becoming. It might have taken the visual shock of seeing it demonstrated in stone to penetrate my dulled sensibilities but it is a fundamental teaching of Scripture: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are being created.
And in that recognition is both hope – and caution. Hope: I am not a finished product. There’s opportunity for improvement. Caution: It’s not about me. It’s not about me growing toward wholeness for random personal purposes or gain. We are being created “to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.”
God, the Master Stonecutter, is continually at work, chipping and shaping His Creatures into the beings He intended us to be. Some of the finished product is determined, at start, by the substance out of which we are being created. But the individuality, the specificity is being determined by the skillful and purposeful Hand of The Creator.
There is a limit, of course, as to how far one stretches the analogy. After all, unlike the soulless stone, we do have a will to confirm or resist the Sculptor’s design. But there are many parallels to point. The most obvious being, we did not make ourselves. We are the creation of something – Someone – regardless of the human processes that brought us into being. Secondly, while much of our growth, by virtue of being human, occurs cell by cell from infancy to adulthood, there is much shaping requisite to make us fully formed human beings, advancing toward the potential inherent within us. Furthermore, much of the refinement of our beings – our souls – has come as the result of the trials and testing that felt, at the time, like the sharp chisel of the stonecutter.
Speaking personally, I can look back over my life and acknowledge a certain amount of growth that came simply from the maturing process of age and experience. But, if I am completely honest with myself, my periods of greatest progress – growth – has come as a result of having been tested and tried beyond my comfort zone. Experiences that required more from me than I could personally resource. Situations that ultimately (sometimes as last resort) threw me into the arms of God. I would never choose the challenges or setbacks. Some hurt terribly and I recoil from the blows. But I do have a choice to submit my life – with its inevitable challenges – into the Hand of the Sculptor for His refining work.
In one of George Mac Donald’s books occurs this fragment of conversation: “I wonder why God made me,” said Mrs Faber bitterly, “I’m sure I don’t know what was the use of making me.”
“Perhaps not much yet,” said Dorothy, “but then He hasn’t done with you yet. He is making you now, and you are quarreling with the process.”
If only we really believed that we are “being created” and would consent to the process, allowing the Creator to use the everyday joys and challenges for our formation, yes, but submitting to the chisel as well, knowing its sharp blows to be essential to the shaping of our souls.
Yet another picture of “God’s workmanship” is given by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. ”
A cottage or a palace? The choice is up to us!
Painting: From Parables of The Christ-life