Dear City Church,
Back in September of last year, Ruffin Alphin, pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Suffolk, joined us as a guest preacher. About 15 minutes into his sermon he said something that made my ears perk up and set my posture ramrod straight. I’m sure I looked not unlike a meerkat popping out of its den.
“Here’s what I need to remember as I’m out there, sweating, cleaning up my garage: this is imaging God. I am organizing this garage. I am getting things in place and bringing order out of chaos.”
…order out of chaos.
Let me back up.
I’m a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle. Her body of work has helped form how I think, live, and worship. And her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (which I first read in 2017) changed profoundly how I think about my work.
L’Engle frames human creativity as bringing cosmos to chaos. She borrows the idea from Leonard Bernstein, the Tony and Grammy and Peabody Award winning composer and conductor responsible for masterpieces like West Side Story and Peter Pan.
L’Engle explains, “Leonard Bernstein tells me more than the dictionary when he says that for him, music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos.”
But L’Engle points out that creating is not just for artists. It’s for all humans.
“What do I mean by creators?” she says. “Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living […] Our freedom to be creators is far less limited than some people think.” She goes on: “God is constantly creating, in us, through us, with us, and to co-create with God is our human calling.” And then: “Remember—the root word of humble and human is the same: humus: earth. We are dust. We are created; it is God who made us and not we ourselves. But we were made to be co-creators with our maker.”
So how do we be co-creators? How do we bring cosmos to chaos?
In Genesis we see God—the first Worker, the Creator of Order—forming the earth, separating light from dark, filling the seas and the ground and the air, making something beautiful and good from nothing. Then He hands this newly created world over to Adam and Eve and says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” He tells His image-bearers to keep this good thing going, to keep creating beauty and order. We get to be part of that, too. It can happen anywhere that humans are because God made us to do it.
A gardener pulling weeds out at the root to restore health to a patch of earth.
A composer piecing together notes just so, creating a song that evokes memory or emotion.
An IT specialist troubleshooting an office printer so productivity doesn’t come to a screeching halt.
Parents filling the washing machine with a load of mud-caked, grass-stained clothes, tending to the practical needs inherent to the chaos of raising little humans.
A bookkeeper ticking off line after line of bank statements to maintain an organization’s financial health.
Second graders clearing their cafeteria table of straw wrappers to leave a welcoming space for the next group of students.
It’s all work, and it all matters to God.
Which brings us back to Ruffin’s sermon in September when he said just that. As he stood there telling us that when we work—no matter what that work is—we are imaging God and pleasing God, I knew in my bones that our congregation needed to hear and think about this more.
Because if we’re not missionaries, or artists creating things with our hands, or in the business of saving lives, it can be hard for us to connect our work to God. Not all of us can (or want) to be those things. Good news, though: we don’t have to. Our God is creative and practical, a big thinker and a focused tinkerer. He’s pleased to see work that is anything like what He did. We were made in His image. We are made, as Ruffin explained it, to be like kings and queens who rule on behalf of God, and priests who communicate His presence to the world.
So here’s what we’re going to do…
Throughout the month of February I’ll be sharing with you one letter a week written by me to a member of City Church. Each of these people recently (and generously) gave me an hour or so of their time to talk about their work: what they do, why they do it, and how they—as fellow image-bearers—see themselves bringing cosmos to chaos in their day-to-day lives.
So, why letters? Two reasons:
One: They worked for the early church; they should serve us well.
Two: I think tackling big ideas feels both more manageable and personally relevant when looked at through the lens of a conversation, a connection between people who know and care for one another. I don’t want to just write blog posts about these friends of mine (and yours). I want to encourage them…and you.
It’s my hope that this series of letters will inspire you to think about your work within this context, too. To remember that when you work, you are being the human you were made to be. To remember that in your work, you image God—which on this side of the cross now means imaging Jesus, the true and complete human king and priest who has worked and continues to work on our behalf.
Grace and peace,