THE VOCATION OF CREATION The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of Duke University Chapel [@LukeAPowery]
he most read book in the world, the Bible, has an incomparable start for incomparable art: “In the beginning when God created…” (Gen. 1:1). God is the beginning, even the beginning of creativity, one of the values of the Chapel. In the beginning, there “was a formless void and darkness” (Gen. 1:2), so at the outset of this biblical narrative, we discover the truth about the world—there is God and there is a void. From the beginning of creation, the earth is in disarray or disorder. Traditional teaching has usually asserted that God created ex nihilo, that is, “out of nothing,” but there is actually something there—“the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”(Gen. 1:2). Earth, wind, and water were the preconditions for God’s work. Material elements, though not ordered, were present, yet there was still a void, awaiting the creative sound and transformative touch of the Artisan’s voice and hands, waiting for divine intervention to make meaning out of chaos and formlessness. God shows a discontentment with the formless void and darkness and responds with creative activity. God does not pout or take a nap, hoping it will all disappear once he awakes; rather, God gets to work, and like poetry, God brings order to the chaos. Genesis doesn’t necessarily present the absolute beginning of all things but the genesis of God’s orderly creation. The poetry of God’s creation is art and art frames the world and brings meaning and form to life. In response to formlessness, we find a holy symmetry of creation—”there was evening and there was morning…”; “And God said, ‘Let there be...’”; “And it was so”; “God saw that it was good”; “there was evening and there was morning….” Repeatedly, we hear this 2 CHAPEL VIEW magazine
“Created in God’s image, we are called to continue to create in the face of formless voids and darkness, just as God did in the beginning.”
rhythmic response to the void, a poetic pattern that suggests God is a poet of illuminating creative Presence. God’s poetic creativity is a form of resistance to the formless void and darkness. God fills the void with creation and creativity. Yet, God’s artwork of creation, as Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim writes, “is not a sudden one-day affair…creation is a dynamic process and not a finished product.” Thus, God is always creating. And as human creatures, we have been touched by God’s handiwork, created by the Divine Artisan who spoke us into existence and breathed life into our formlessness. Created in God’s image, we are called to continue to create in the face of formless voids and darkness, just as God did in the beginning. To be in God’s image means to be creative and to create,
which is a sign of the divine imprint on our lives. In the beginning, God, and in the beginning, there was creation. In this issue of Chapel View, you will see how the Chapel continues to embrace God’s vocation of creation through student engagement, including the interfaith work of Religious Life at Duke; Christian worship; sacred music and the arts; and community engagement. Creativity, for us, is not merely a value, it is a divine calling, as we strive to make beauty out of chaos as artists of hope until the day God fills all voids once and for all as our all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). As you peruse the pages, we’d love for you to join and support us in our mission of ongoing creation.