Baptism, Mystery and Creativity



Epiphany is a time to celebrate Baptism and the creative Spirit of God, the Spirit that moved in creation in Genesis, who spoke to Jesus in baptism, and we hope moves in our lives.  Do we believe in a Spirit that creates and moves in the world?  How does it work?  Let’s think about creativity in general.

When you think of someone creative, you may name Da Vinci or Mozart or the Beatles, but really, creativity is what defines each of us as a person.  We all create a persona that people recognize as YouYou may play the organ, knit, cook, tell funny stories, fix things, balance budgets, teach or take the tension out of a situation. We create all the time, for that is how we survive, love and have fun; yet we are perplexed by creativity.  What is it, where does it come from, how do we foster more of it?  Is creativity a unique gift that flows from the gods, a muse as the Greeks believed?  Or is it a product of our amazingly evolved brains, this gift inside our skulls that took millions of year of human experience to create?

Scott Berkum, author and creative management consultant, describes a tour inside of Google headquarters in 2006:

The group of business managers had the giddy look of kids in a candy factory-their twinkling eyes captivated by Google’s efforts to make a creative workplace. …We strolled together under the high ceilings and brightly colored open spaces designed to encourage inventiveness.  No room or walkway was free of beanbag chairs, pin-pong tables, laptops, and Nerf toys, the endless clutter of shared games, brain-teasing puzzles, and customized tech gadgetry.  The vibe was a happy blend of the MIT media-lab, the Fortune 500, and an eccentrically architected private library, with young, smart, smiley people lingering just about everywhere.  To those innocents on the tour, perhaps survivors of cubicle careers, the sights of Google were mystical-a working wonderland.

The tour guide offered fun facts about life at Google, like the free organic lunches in the cafeteria and power outlets for laptops in curious places (stairwell, for example), expenses taken to ensure Googlers are able, at all times, to find their best ideas.  While I wondered whether Beethoven or Hemingway, great minds noted for thriving on conflict, could survive in such a nurturing environment without going postal, the tourists began to ask questions.  “Where is the search engine?  Are we going to see it?” at which only half the group laughed.  Another question, spoken in private, struck home.

A 30-somethig man turned to his tour buddy, leaning in close to whisper.  I strained to overhear without looking like I was eaves-dropping.  He pointed to the young programmers and said, “I see them talking and typing, but when do they come up with their ideas?”  His buddy stood tall and looked around, as if to discover something his friend had missed:  a secret passageway, epiphany machines, or perhaps a circle of black-robed geniuses casting creativity spells.  Finding nothing, he shrugged, they sighed, and the tour moved on.  (See Berkum, p. 2-3

Creativity baffles us because it is no more visible than the Google “search engine.”  It is somewhere in the cloud of unknowing.  You can’t see creativity, but it comes where it is nurtured and beckoned.  The Spirit moves, apparently, where there are puzzles and Nerf balls, and also where people pray and sing.

Two famous scientists take opposite approaches to creativity.  Edison said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  He said that nothing he ever did was an accident, but the result of hard work. In contrast, Albert Einstein, who also worked hard, believed that imagination was that 1 percent that means everything:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.  (Go here for more Einstein quotes

We can affirm both scientists as being right about creativity, yet my spiritual sensibilities favor Einstein, mystery, imagination and spirit.  Today, as we celebrate Epiphany, we come in contact with mystery in all our readings on Baptism.  Mark’s Gospel proclaims that when Jesus is baptized by John, he has this mystical experience:

10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.   (Mark 1:10-11, NRSV)

Think for a moment what this meant for Jesus.  We may think Jesus never had any doubts, fears, second-guessing or bad days because is Jesus the Christ.  But the Gospels do portray a human side of Jesus that struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane, who weeps over Jerusalem, who shouts from the cross, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  If those are not real feelings, if Jesus did not feel pain, hunger, fear of death, embarrassment, feelings of failure or despair, then he wouldn’t really be human.  His courage and compassion are all the more real because these human feelings are real.  What did it mean to Jesus as he is starting his ministry and dedicating himself through John’s Baptism, to hear the Spirit say, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Imagine the assurance that you are loved, like a child of the Creator God, and this God is pleased with you!  It appears to me that the Holy Spirit of God was not constantly whispering in Jesus’ head.  The Spirit speaks as needed.  This is the source of strength, power, wisdom and guidance throughout his life.

The rest of the lectionary passages direct us toward the workings of the Spirit throughout human history.  In Genesis, the Spirit of God is there in the beginning of time, hovering over the waters of a world still forming, where there is not yet land and sea, or any living creatures.  This Spirit blows and brings order to the earth, creating what we know to be our world.  The first act of God is commanding the waters, which connects us to the ritual and power of Baptism.  Water symbolizes the Spirit, the life-giving and creative action of God.

The Spirit that speaks to Jesus in Baptism continues to move through the act of baptism, as we read about Paul baptizing in Ephesus.  Paul finds a group of believers in Ephesus who were baptized in the name of John.  (You have to wonder how that all came about.  Clearly the Spirit was moving in many unknown and unnamed people we never hear about in the scriptures.  Somehow the message of John the Baptist travels from the wilderness near the Jordan River all the way up to a Greek city across the sea, preparing the way for Jesus even on the European continent, planting a seed of the Gospel when Paul arrives to water it with Baptism.)  The lesson is that the Spirit continues to move in Baptism after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is as Jesus promised in John 14:26:

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

Here is the flow of the Lectionary for Epiphany; the Spirit creates the world in Genesis, the same spirit creates and calls Jesus the Beloved in his baptism, and the Spirit continues to move and speak among the baptized.  Now let’s take the logical leap – this means you are the people whom the Spirit continues to move.  God’s work is not finished, because the baptized are still here.  Every week we recite in the Lutheran confession that we receive “the power to become Children of God.”  What does it mean?  It means that we too may hear the Spirit saying “You are mine, you are beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Therefore listen and live by the creative Spirit.

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