Holy waste.

The history of mankind is the history of men and women who wasted themselves and were not afraid to do so. They did not fear the waste of themselves, of other men, of things in the service of a new creation. They were justified, for they wasted all this out of the fullness of their hearts. They wasted as God does in nature and history, in creation and salvation.

– Paul Tillich, The New Being

This morning I woke up 4:30 am. “What to do?” It would’ve make sense to lie back down, but why waste such a valuable opportunity to get things done before everyone gets up? So I compounded the problem by making breakfast and coffee, jotting down some thoughts, then reading the newspaper.

By 7:00 am I felt like I needed a nap. Then the kids got up.

We read. Thankfully I had made pancakes already. But that wasn’t good enough. ‘Dad, get it in my mouth before I realize I’m hungry!’ they seem to say. No ‘thank you’ or gratitude of any kind. Just generous offerings of complaints, demands, and requests for things I couldn’t understand or fulfill.

So I took a walk. (Thank you, Rache.) Asking myself, ‘How can I use my time more effectively in the morning? What would be refreshing?’

My tendency is to take in a ton of information in the morning. The pickings are plentiful and ripe: news, current events, music, radio, audio books, regular books, social media feeds. And that’s all on top of a full time job, and trying to spend quality time with family and friends who do not allow for meaningful connection through scanning headlines. (And I’m not talking about wrinkles.)

‘How to balance it all?’

I think what I’m realizing (slowly) is that my resources and capacities are limited (surprise… I know). I’m no superhero. Or even a super-dad.

Obviously, the more I try to fit into a single day, the less time I have to devote to each in a meaningful way. So what needs to give? Or is it just a matter of being better organized?

Maybe that’s not the right question to ask, though. Instead, ‘What could I do that is life-giving?’

Information alone is not life-giving, I find. While I do enjoy taking in information and engaging with it, for the most part, it remains a uni-sensory, motionless activity.

But this morning, I walked. Engaging all of my senses. Listening to the sound of cicadas, seeing the variety of plant life and trees, feeling the hot sun on my back, and wet grass beneath my feet. And best of all, smelling octane as cars pass by. Okay, so that’s not so refreshing. But you get the point.

Why? What is it about engaging one’s senses that is life-giving?

I think of those times in my basement taking apart pallets, for example: the roughness of the wood, the sound of the sander, the smell of freshly cut oak, the jolt of the hammer. Designing and creating, even something as simple as a box.

It’s a way focussing. Engaging my mind on a single act or point. As opposed to the frenzy of scanning the headlines, which leaves me feeling scatterbrained at best.

Martha, Martha. Anxious and troubled about many good things. Her mind, busy and scattered. And Jesus affirms Mary for choosing the one thing needful.

So what is the one thing needful for me? For anyone?

I don’t believe we can package it into sitting down with Bible in one hand, journal in the other and meditating on the word of God. I think anything that provides a single point of focus, can be an opportunity for worship and stillness before Jesus, whether we realize it or not.

We say we are made in the image of God. That God is creator. And being made in his image we also are called to create. But I think it’s more than a calling. I believe it is a need as well. Why else would we spend so much time enjoying spinning words, spinning yarn, starting businesses, or cooking delicious and aesthetically pleasing meals?

When we look at all the activity on social media, it is easy to judge, considering the sheer amount of verbal diarrhea and uncreative output available for consumption. But rather than judging, which I am so good at, I’m trying to transition to seeing it as an effort to connect – to spin out of ourselves, into the world, and into the hearts and minds of others.

It is an effort to connect with our Creator.

It is an attempt to share ourselves, just as God did with us. He spun out worlds – planets, stars, galaxies, perhaps even universes within universes. Subatomic particles to black holes. Endless creativity. Mind-blowing beauty.

Because we are made in his image, we too have the urge to spin ourselves outside of ourselves. To bring more light, life and joy into existence. It’s not merely an act of self-validation to share our creation with others and seek their approval and engagement in it. It is more.

Our impulse to create, whatever the medium, is good. And we should affirm that good impulse in us and in others. Even if it is through social media.

Creating is an attempt to worship. An attempt to be still and rest our creative energies in the source of that energy and impulse.

In Mary choosing to slow down and sit at the feet of Jesus she was choosing worship over busyness. And worship for her in that moment meant the cessation of activity and choosing to be still before her Creator. The one through whom and by whom all things were created and exist. (Col 1:16)

C.S. Lewis states the obvious: a window is there for the purpose of seeing through to something else. Eventually our eyes have to rest on something solid. So it is with our hearts. As Augustine put it, ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’

You can’t go on ‘seeing through’ things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

There is an effort in Western Christianity to revive the arts. This is good, and I am thankful for it. And I think part of the renewal should include an emphasis on freedom in creating. On affirming messy creativity. On ‘holy waste’, as Tillich puts it.

Creativity needs to include discernment, I think, and discernment can only be learned through creating imperfectly. In creating, it is important to not overthink the act (as it may seem like I’m doing now) but to allow the creative impulse to carry itself through, unhindered, just as God did when he created the universe. When you ponder the lavishness of it long enough, it simply seems wasteful. (Why create something someone will not see or appreciate or praise you for?)

Not only wasteful, but imperfect. Consider the asymmetry, not only of the human face, but also of the Earth, and the orbit of the planets. Yet, the imperfection of the earth, for example, is the very thing that provides momentum for life to begin, evolve, and sustain itself.

So, in creating, I think we too must allow ourselves to be imperfect. To spew ‘holy waste’ without shame or guilt. And in accepting imperfection, I trust we will create things that give life to ourselves and others, just as God’s creation does so for us.

 

7 thoughts on “Holy waste.”

  1. Joseph,

    I keep meaning to write and ask if you and Rachel and the kids are ok

    as I haven’t seen you at church.

    Just wanted you to know I was thinking about you guys!

    Blessings!

    Mrs Di (Sheila)

    ________________________________

    1. We are doing great! Thanks for letting us know you’ve been thinking of us. We’ve been at a more local congregation for the last two months or so. Smaller. It’s been nice for us.

  2. I never thought this cranky little 10 year old, who made Family picture taking so difficult at Grandma and Grandpa’s in Whiting would be putting out stuff like this. You are a gifted writer, I’d love to see you have a larger audience, simply because your reflections are helpful. Perhaps you will. Your art is being done with words, and it is being “wasted”, but, as you say, this is your way of worship, whether others observe it or not.

    1. Thanks, uncle Pete. I appreciate and am thankful for your encouragement. Thank you for reading and engaging. It means a lot to me. Hope to see you guys soon!

      1. You’re welcome dear Joseph, I have a ton of respect, and admiration for you, not only as a writer of course, but as a father and husband. I will be closing the pool in a couple of weeks, but you are welcome to come to Aunt Risa’s house with or without the open pool. I am still digging NT Wright, I’ve listened to his messagesPaul and the People of God, and Jesus and the people of God from the 2010 Wheaton conference over and over and over again. I don’t know why, it’s just one of the most enjoyable things I do right now. I found out there was a book published, the came out of the 2010 conference, so now I’m not only listening to, but reading the same messages.
        I need to somehow get your milk and pencils to come into my primary in box, because I don’t check the Gmail promotions or social section.
        And Teresa was looking into some additional schooling for her melancholy husband… I just turned 57… you think its too late for me?

      2. Regarding getting these posts to come to your primary inbox, I think that’s a Gmail issue you might have to address in your settings.

        Re: taking classes & N.T. Wright – I think that’s great. It’s never too late to continue learning and creating. I’d imagine there’s a good deal of creative content in you just waiting to come out. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more of it now than ever, considering it’s had years to mature and develop. Don’t hold back. Have fun!

  3. I suppose I’m growing more and more weary / frustrated, with comments about carrots not being done quite right, or the pot roast being a little tough… it’s not how I want to end my days, which are, as as it increasingly appears to me, numbered.

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