Summer has finally arrived in Seattle. We just finished a very typical cycle that we like call “Juneuary,” when the weather feels much more like January than it does June. It happens pretty much every year, and every year Seattleites moan and complain about it. We often get a nice stretch of weather in late April or early May, just to tease us, and then it goes back to being cold and rainy for another six to eight weeks. But then something magical happens; sometime during the first or second week of July, we go from 50 degrees and raining to 70-80 degrees and sunny, and it generally stays that way through the first part of September. It’s as if someone just flips a switch, and Seattle becomes one of the most glorious places to be in the continental United States.
This is also the time when Seattleites return to their gardening in earnest. The soaking rains of June followed by a few days of warmth and sun seem to turbo-charge the growth of every kind of plant, including those that we’d rather not have: the dandelions, clover, and moss that thwart our attempts at a decent lawn; the insidious vines that creep over from the neighbor’s yard and wind their way around everything; and all manner of quick-growing weeds that seem to spring up from nowhere and fill the planter beds, crowding out the flowers and bushes that we so meticulously planted the year before.
I often joke that our yard is very “intertextual,” which is a nice way of saying that it’s really a complete mess. I was out in the garden yesterday, mowing and trying my best to bring some order to the chaos that is our yard. I’ve never been a talented gardner, so my efforts are mostly on the macro level: mowing down the lawns, pruning back the large bushes, ripping out clusters of weeds and dead plants, or digging up sections that are beyond the point of any kind of surgical redemption. I often think that I am really just holding back nature’s unending and rather effective efforts to reclaim our yard and house to the wilderness. What little pastoral tranquility we have achieved is the result of a constant struggle to bring order out of chaos.
Of course, gardeners are not the only people who bring order out of chaos. In many ways, this is what all artists do too; they creatively engage with unformed materials in order bring about new forms of order. Gardners create an ordered nature out of wilderness. Sculptors release enticing forms from the solid blocks of material that surround them. Potters caress beautiful and useful shapes out of formless clay. Dancers bring purpose and structure to otherwise random movement. And musical composers stich together ordered melodies, harmonies, and rhythm from a cacophony of possible sounds.
It may sound odd, but I think engineers do this as well. This shouldn’t be all that surprising though, as engineering and art are far more connected than we typically assume. The term ‘artisan’ points towards this connection; we don’t use it all that much anymore, but it refers to someone who is skilled at making things that are both useful and beautiful. Engineering, and especially computer programming, is really an artisanal craft. It requires a creative engagement with the world, an engagement that seeks to bring order out of disorder.
To be a bit more accurate, artists and artisans participate in the ongoing, redemptive work of God to bring about order in creation. Now, I’m not a trained theologian, nor play one on TV, so you’ll have to excuse me if I inadvertently start spouting heresy here. But it seems to me that much of what God does in the word involves bringing about order out of chaos, or restoring that order whenever it begins to disintegrate. We as artists and engineers get to participate in that redeeming and sustaining action, and we do so through our creativity.
In his book Voicing Creation’s Praise, Jeremy Begbie argues that “human creativity is supremely about sharing through the Spirit in the creative purpose of the Father as he draws all things to himself through the Son” (179). He then goes on to describe how we get to participate in this work:
There needs to be an interaction with creation, a development, a bringing forth of new forms of order out of what we are given at the hand of the Creator. And there will be a redeeming of disorder, mirroring God’s redeeming work in Christ, a renewal of that which has been spoiled, a re-ordering of what is distorted. This redeeming activity will entail a penetration of the disorder of the world—human and non-human, just as the Son of God penetrated our twisted and warped existence. It will also entail judgement; an unmasking of disorder, a denunciation of that which disfigures the world, as at Golgatha. There will be a transformation, the forging of a new order out of the ugliness of disorder, as in Christ’s resurrection (179).
How do you participate in the redemption of disorder, the bringing of order out of chaos? What would the “unmasking of disorder” and the “denunciation of that which disfigures the world” look like in your vocation?