Kokeshi, Rope-making, and Creativity

“Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.”
― Joss Whedon

I recently ran into a video of a Japanese doll maker, courtesy of ; it was a fascinating look at one man’s craft and the intricate work in which he engages with his hands. Take a look (and listen):Mental Floss

You can learn more about the Kokeshi dolls here at the original article.

This reminded me of a field trip I had with some of my students last year, when I had the privilege of accompanying several classes for an overnight excursion to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento. While at the Fort, we all role-played particular roles: the students were assigned specific backgrounds and identities, and had the chance to learn various trades that were prevalent at the time of John Sutter. The teachers and parents taught these trades, and for our part, we had various identities too: I was a Catholic (go figure!) immigrant from a large family who barely made it over Donnor Pass. In addition to my role, I was also a rope-maker, and taught the students how to make good (or not so good) quality rope. Somehow, I imagine my 19th century counterpart had just a little bit more skill than I did after my 30 minutes of instruction.

In any case, while we were there, I was talking with a dear friend, a fellow teacher, about the various trades in which we were employed at the Fort, and she made an astute observation: we were not made for sitting behind a desk; as human beings we need to be doing something. As teachers, we were blessed in the fact that we had active days, interacting with many people, even though there were certainly times that we had to sit at a desk and grade papers, but we both agreed that it would be very difficult to have a typical desk job.

The point, however, was this: no matter what our occupation, we must still be allowed to create in order to be truly fulfilled. Human beings are naturally creative creatures, whether we are participating in the creative aspect of procreation in union with our spouse and in concert with God, or if we are “creating” in terms of physical trade or crafts, or even more abstract ventures such as writing or art. to flourish, we must be allowed, and seek, to participate in the creative nature given to us by God.

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and what is He? He is the creator, the one who brought our entire cosmos into being. If, then, we are made in His image and likeness, then we are naturally creative beings. Does this mean we create like God ex nihilo, out of nothing? No, of course not. But in some way, we still share in that creative nature: at fundamental levels such as procreation, or in more abstract forms such as art, music, writing, hobbies, and even in mundane everyday work. We are driven to creativity, in whatever form the Lord has blessed us. All throughout my life, I have seen evidence of this drive towards creativity: my dad was a florist, my grandfather was a frame-maker and craftsman. I myself enjoy writing, even if I am a bit verbose. Creativity is present in occupations and skills that one would not normally expect to be considered “creative”: my sister, a physical therapist, must examine patients and using her knowledge, form treatment plans that best allow her patients to thrive. A friend who is a massage therapist does the same, as does a close friend who is a nurse in the Navy. Teachers create all the time with their students. Priests must grapple with the mysteries of God, discerning how to present them to their people, begetting spiritual children, and  helping their communities grow closer to Him.

File:Milky Way from France.jpg

I think He did a pretty good job… By BlaiseThirard (Own work) Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

Some people find this share in the creative outside of their jobs. Hobbies are an excellent example, even some hobbies that some may consider more far-flung: my own interest in astronomy allows me to participate in the creative aspect of God both through observation and the consideration of particular astronomical questions. My grandfather continues to cultivate bonsai plants, and many of my friends create through music. Even at a more basic level, our primary vocations, whether single, married, ordained, or consecrated, draw us into the life of the Trinity, sharing in God’s love and in His creative force.

In whatever way we are called to be creative, we must take joy in our work, seeing the action of the Father, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, through the grace of the Son, present in our lives and vocation. How are you called to create?

Trees, Pro-Life, and Bad Poetry

Several weeks ago, I visited the redwoods on the Mendocino Coast here in California with a couple friends and their three-year-old son. I have traveled to the redwoods in other parts of the state, but these were no less majestic and awe-inspiring. Among these tall giants, this small hobbit pondered the beauty of creation and the immanence of God’s love in everything around us.

Then the other day, a friend of mine posted on her blog an excellent response to the question, “Does God love trees?” which brought me back to my trip through the redwoods. She tackles the question in a very nuanced way, showing how all of His creation is imbued with His infinite love. So we must ask, “If that creation is filled with His love, should He not love even the trees, or should we neglect any part of His creation, even the part that resides outside of humanity?” The answer to both of these is, of course, no.

I think the issue here comes down to this, and I know that I may get some flack for what I am about to say, but what does it mean to be pro-life? Being pro-life means protecting the innocent unborn. Being pro-life means preserving the life and well-being of the elderly. Being pro-life means feeding the hungry, helping the sick, sheltering the homeless. Being pro-life means finding constructive solutions for immigrants. Being pro-life means recognizing and cherishing the beauty of a marriage between a man and woman, and the spiritual, emotional, and physical bond that they share. We must uphold the dignity of the human person, from conception to natural death and everything in-between.

But does life include not only humanity, but the rest of His creation as well? I would say yes. Unequivocally yes.

As my friend pointed out, God’s love is infinite, so how can any part of His infinite creation NOT be loved? If we are serious about being Christians, we cannot pick and choose; sure we may have particular ministries or causes for which we are especially devoted. We  must also know that while He loves all of creation, the love given to humanity is different than that to, say, trees. As Christians, though, we have a duty to be pro-life in every way. While we may each have our own particular focus and call to serve in a special way, the Church, the Body of Christ, is pro-life in every way: babies, immigrants, homeless, the elderly, the incarcerated, good stewardship… To be pro-life means to be pro-creation, and creation includes, well, just that: everything. We must maintain the dignity and beauty of all creation.

Speaking of which, I came across this the other day while going through some old computer files. I think I wrote it a few years ago. Maybe I will make a monthly feature called “Bad Poetry” in which I can ensure my pride remains in check… Pax et bonum.

Bloedel_Reserve_Willow_Tree

Old Man Willow

Long emerald fingers sway in the breeze.

Old man Willow stirs from his peaceful rest.
In this early morning light, he stretches deeply;
His roots reach into the cool life-blood of the flowing stream.

Majestic Oak, young Beech, joyful Maple;
All are nearby, stirring, stretching.
Some yet saplings, others old growth,
Old man Willow remains the first.

Then it began.

Slowly, steadily, they all disappear.
Young, old, friends, foes,
Everyone surrounding him vanishes.
One by one gone.

The machines came,
Harsh, loud mechanisms,
Pulled his friends from home.
This new life was young, energetic, and had much to learn

There were voices:
The ones pulling friends away, knowing no better.
They debate – will old man Willow suffer the same?
No, the young ones decide to let him be.

Ruling Pine, fair Ash, confident Chestnut, all gone.
Old man Willow observes a different scene:
Young couples picnicking, new homes built, small children playing,
Resting near the cool waters of his home.

The voices are different,
The stories are the same.
Birth, death…

Old man Willow reaches deep, drinks the cool waters.
Long emerald fingers sway in the breeze.

Updated: The Beauty of Creation

The Beauty of Creation

Yosemite Winter Night Courtesy of Astronomy Photo of the Day

Before I converted to Catholicism, I always had the understanding that the Church was against science. I spent years studying (as an amateur) subjects such as theoretical physics and astronomy, and I continue to today when I can. I enjoy math, but certainly not to the extent of people like this, who may disagree with me from the religious perspective, but nevertheless are very skilled at making difficult scientific theories accessible to the general public. In any case, I always thought that these topics were eschewed in Christian circles. Boy was I wrong.

Example: the originator of the what would become the Big Bang Theory was a Jesuit Priest, Georges Lemaître (please hold the Jesuit jokes for later, thank you). Sure, there have been moments where the Church hasn’t always been a shining example of scientific openness, but even those times are almost always blown out of proportion and taken out of context.

Anyways, as I grew to learn more about the Faith, I realized that the Church did not neglect science. In fact, particularly in the modern-day world, the Church is a bastion of good, thorough, and ethical scientific practice and theory. I eventually discovered what so many others have found: science and religion are simply two sides of the same coin. They both lead to Truth, albeit in their own ways. Both science and religion, if handled properly without presuppositions, both reveal the same God of Love that us Catholics are so familiar with.

I believe the opening words of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor says it all:

The splendor of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Hence the Psalmist prays: “Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:6).

When I spend time in nature, whether I am hiking, fishing, or stargazing during a campout, I can not help but see the imprint of the Creator, this same splendor of truth. In the beauty around us, contained in the natural world and the very people who are a part of our lives, we are given a glimpse of the Divine. Slow down and take a look. Spend a moment or two with the Creator. How does He reveal Himself in your life?

Happy (early) Feast of the Epiphany!

Pax et bonum,

Dean

PS: As a side note, one of the best meteor showers this year will be the Perseids on August 12-13. The moon sets before midnight, leaving a promising opportunity for viewing. While the peak will be on the above listed days, you should still get quite a show the previous weekend of August 10-11. Might be a good time for a camping trip…

UPDATE: Dr. Kaku has posted a fascinating video entitled “Math is the Mind of God.” Check it out. His analogy of music, hyperspace, and the mind of God comes very close to how Tolkien describes the creation of Middle-Earth in The Silmarillion. I would say, however, that Dr. Kaku gets a little too close to reducing God to an equation…