What if creation is the lavish, extravagant gift of a prodigal God?
For our 10th anniversary, Barry and I took a trip to Montreal, QC. While there, we went to see Notre Dame cathedral. I kind of didn’t want to go because I had seen some pictures and to my evangelical eye it seemed gaudy. The churches of my upbringing were plain or downright utilitarian, some of them multipurpose boxes designed to maximize how far donated dollars could go. No church I had ever attended had stained glass, let alone other structural adornments. I was brought up to believe that icons were stand-in gods, and therefore sinful, and that ornate churches were wasteful, having used money for unnecessary things. I did not think I would have a positive reaction to the excessively ornate, colourful, icon-filled Notre Dame. But it is a landmark and friends had suggested we not miss the opportunity to see it.
I was moved to tears.
As I entered that magnificent sanctuary, the ever-gracious Spirit removed the utilitarian scales from my eyes. instead of a gaudy, self-important waste of money, I saw passionate expression of worship. This was the modern, local equivalent to the temple in Jerusalem! I could see the handiwork of many artisans and artists. No surface was left untouched! Colours and textures sang out to me! Golds, reds, blues, twisted columns, carved lecterns, stained glass all attested to the glory of a matchless God. They all cried out, “God is so good and has given us so much, how can we do less than give back the best!”
This experience transformed not only my ideas about worship spaces, but about expressions of worship and what constitutes worship.
Many years later, I had a conversation that engaged with this Notre Dame experience. I was having lunch with some Muslim friends. They were and are people of faith and also of science. They were explaining some of the tenets of their faith to me and we began talking about creation. After comparing creation stories, one of my friends said that he found it hard to believe (as per his interpretation of the Christian version), that human beings on earth were the only sentient beings in all the vast universe. I had begun to be open to paradox, unanswered questions, and messy complexity, so instead of coming up with some kind of defensive answer, I said that the story didn’t perforce eliminate the possibility of there being others.
A few days later, the Spirit brought to mind that conversation alongside Notre Dame. She asked, “If humans are capable of creating something so magnificent as that cathedral for the sole purpose of worshiping me, could I not create something magnificent solely for the pleasure of my dearest companions?” I began to wonder. What if all of the galaxies upon galaxies were created just so humans could explore and discover things about them? What if God gave humans innate curiosity so that they would set out to know more about not only their own world, but all that lay beyond it? What if all of creation were a puzzle to be unraveled with appreciation and enjoyment?
A delightful image of God emerged. I could picture God eagerly watching early scientists looking at the skies and discovering that the world revolves around the sun. With a gleeful and smug smile, God said, “Ha! Isn’t that great?! I wondered when someone would figure that bit out! Isn’t it cool? Doesn’t it just explain so many things you didn’t understand before?” I could picture the Spirit looking over the shoulders of scientists peering into microscopes, whispering suggestions of what to look for, nudging their eyes over to notice that little something in the corner. And on through centuries of discovery: God clapping in joy at the discovery of penicillin, God letting out a whoop of celebration at the first inkling of a black hole, God jumping up and down clapping with the first observation of a previously unknown insect. I imagine God like an impatient gift-giver waiting for the wrapping to come off so the recipient can finally see the wonderful gift hidden within. Dancing in anticipation, God can hardly wait for us to discover the as-yet-unseen wonders of the extravagant gift of creation.
And maybe there are sentient being in another universe on a similar journey of discovery and God’s greatest delight is reserved for when we find each other.
Photo: Night Sky with the Big Dipper – Haley Holtslander