The following post was written by Chris Yokel, who is a poet, musician, and writer on art, creativity, and music. Chris lives in Massachusetts. Drop by and visit his blog to explore his writings and music.
The Mind of the Maker: Week 4 (Chapter 7&8)
If you’re not reading with us, that’s ok… Each post shares one idea found in the text.
“In the beginning there was Illúvatar, the One, and he sat alone. Then he made the Ainur, the Holy Ones, who were the first offspring of his thought, and he spoke unto them a theme of music, and they sang before him and he was glad. And ever as they listened they came to greater understanding, unison, and harmony. And it came to pass that he called them together, and propounded to them a great theme of music, more glorious and wonderful than he had yet revealed, and he bid them to make in harmony a Great Music, since he had kindled them with the Flame Imperishable. And so they began to fashion the theme, and the endlessly interchanging harmonies and melodies rose to fill all the dwellings of Illúvatar, and it went out into the Void, and it was no longer Void.
But there was among the Ainur one Melkor, mightiest among them, who began to weave into the music themes of his own imagining, to increase the glory of his own part. For he had often gone alone into the Void, seeking and growing in lust for the Imperishable Flame, desiring to make things of his own. And as he wove his own themes into the music of the Ainur, a discord arose and spread. But Illúvatar raised his left hand, and a new theme arose against that of Melkor, but the discord of Melkor swelled up and took the mastery. And Illúvatar raised his right hand and a third theme grew, soft and delicate, but it could not be defeated. And at last it seemed as if there were two themes before the throne of Illúvatar, one beautiful and deep, yet woven with sadness, the other loud and vain and clashing. Then Illúvatar rose and raised both hands, and in a great thunderous chord, the Music ceased.
Then Illúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Illúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’”
In this the Ainulindalë (or “The Music of the Ainur”), J.R.R. Tolkien re-fashions the biblical creation story into the beginning of his own fantasy world, Middle-earth, and in doing so gives what I think is one of the most profound responses to the question of evil. In the mysterious depths of God, evil will redound to the greater beauty of all things.
This is not easy to see in the midst of the sweat and struggle. Chapter 7 in The Mind of the Makerwas complicated and frustrating to get through (even for a Philosophy major like myself). The problem of evil is complicated and frustrating to understand. Creativity in a world of thorns and thistles is complicated and frustrating to bring forth.
But what can we do in the midst of such things? We could rail against God and ask why. We could turn our back on Him and embrace the darkness. We could pretend that evil doesn’t exist and bury our heads in the sand. But that is not the way. As Sayers says,
“We must not, that is, try to behave as though the Fall had never occurred nor yet say that the Fall is a Good Thing in itself. But we may redeem the Fall by a creative act.” (107)
In the wisdom of God, the Fall and its repercussions will be woven into the devising of things more wonderful, which we have never imagined. And we are called to be part of that redemption now because Jesus, the incarnate one, has come down to grapple with and take the mastery of death and sin:
“The Fall has taken place and Evil has been called into active existence; the only way to transmute Evil into Good was to redeem it by creation. But, the Evil having been experienced, it could be redeemed only within the medium of experience—that is, by an incarnation in which experience was fully and freely in accordance with the Idea.” (107)
What does that look like for us? It looks like people on whom Pentecost has fallen, a people filled with the Imperishable Flame, spreading the new creation of God birthed in their hearts out into the world. And that means picking up the broken pieces and making them into something beautiful. In his lecture “The Bible and Christian Imagination” (which I would encourage you to watch the full lecture here: http://vimeo.com/27582688), N.T. Wright gives a picture of what that looks like:
“There’s a work of art which stands at the moment in the great new atrium in the British Museum in London. The director of the British Museum is a practicing Christian, Neil McGregor. And he has with great courage put this work of art there. It speaks volumes about the nature of Christian imagination, taking the great biblical story and making it live again, speaking into and engaging with our culture. It’s a sculpture from Mozambique, and it’s a sculpture of the Tree of life, the Tree of life which stood there in the Garden of Eden, but was inaccessible, the Tree of Life which now grows on the banks of the Waters of Life coming out of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22. But this tree of life is different, because it is made of decommissioned weapons after the Mozambique civil war. It’s composed entirely of military hardware—guns and stuff. It’s a very powerful symbol of what Isaiah was talking about. There will come a time when people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, a time of peace. How do you re-imagine the Christian story after a civil war? Maybe you do it like this. You turn the weapons into a tree of life. What a wonderful symbol of engaging the culture, of taking a theme which spans Genesis to Revelation and of saying, put this in the middle of your world and imagine, imagine what God is like and what the world will one day be like.”
Your efforts of new creation may not be as profound as this. It may be taking old clothes from a deceased cancer patient and making a memory quilt for their family. It may be planting a garden where only a patch of dirt existed before, and fighting those weeds day by day. It may be training young minds to “wait upon Pentecost,” to open themselves to the gifts they have been given. Every act of Spirit-empowered new creation is a blow against the curse. Every creative act redeems the Fall. And one day, we will straighten up our stiff back, step back, and see the whole glorious tapestry and gasp, as the light and dark hues stand before us in a pattern “of things more wonderful, which [we] hath not yet imagined.”
If you live in Charlotte and have interest in getting together with a group of folks for an evening to discuss The Mind of the Maker, please let me know. All are welcome – whether you’ve kept up with the reading or not.