Caring for God’s Art

By

[Editor’s note: Last night our lovely little dog, Misty, died of the cancer that had been consuming her for the past few years. This morning we buried her under a grizzly old cedar tree and marked the spot with
a cairn of stones gathered from around the property. Jennifer asked that I repost this article as a memorial.]  

Three years ago I adopted a gorgeous and hopelessly neurotic Sheltie. The snap of a towel being folded sends her scooting for cover, plastic trash bags are her nemeses, and an errant golf cart blocking the sidewalk can cause the sunshine to shrivel in her eyes. Indeed, going outside at all is a traumatic daily test of her courage and moral fiber. (Not that I blame her; I couldn’t have a private moment while a garbage truck was watching either.)

Our relationship is founded on unwavering devotion and unsentimentally filled with saliva-covered squeaky balls, wet patches on my carpet, and unidentifiable smells. There is a simplicity about it that reaches deep down to the primal core of my human vocation. Sometimes I imagine that at the end of the day my most virtuous acts have been to fill up my dog’s food dish and give her a belly rub. Such moments remind me of the moment when the first couple first stood eye to eye with a tiger and praised its Maker. We sons of Adam and daughters of Eve may have many other callings in a fallen world, but this one still remains: to care for what God has made, what he loves, for which he has plans beyond our imagining.

We are in Eden no longer, and this little Sheltie is a fearful captive on an earth mucked up by human hands and feet—a world in which the rocks worship more loudly than we do and the dogs must be content with living off the scraps of grace that fall from the children’s table. When did God’s good creation become the flowery wallpaper in front of which—and often oblivious to which—we do the “important” work? What if that creation is actually at the heart of the story, a story we humans have tragically and wastefully interrupted? We stand on this earth surrounded by the sweep of a mighty Epic—paused on the brink of its climax while the Creator redeems its wayward protagonists.

If I woke up one morning and suddenly found myself living in a Van Gogh painting on the wall of a museum, I would take great care to water his sunflowers. I would stare proudly back at the museum-goers who were staring at with me with envy—this lucky girl who got to exist for a day in a vibrant swirl of blue and yellow. And if I popped back out of the painting again, the first thing I would do is to pick up a paintbrush. You cannot be embraced by a giver of beauty without something stirring inside you to give beauty back to him.

But I am that girl, whether or not I always remember it. I live and breathe and have my being in the artwork of a Master: the great evolving life of earth tumbling out its generations of species in playful and almost reckless exuberance; the yearning furnace of a million suns; the blind, voiceless praise of an undiscovered creature miles under the sea; the exquisite burst of a nebula, like a blooming rose of fire; the wet smear of a doggish lick of love on a human nose—all moving, growing, changing, telling, waiting, all rushing towards a single point, all answering back to God, “YES. Amen. So be it.”

Why then, do we often sit like crabby old couples on a train, reading the news and arguing over trivialities, while glory rushes past our windows? Maybe it’s because, in spite of what we confess and say we believe, deep down we really do think it’s all going to burn up in the end.

Perhaps it is not so much a failure of faith on our part as it is a failure of imagination, a myopic view of God’s panoramic purposes—from the redemption of the smallest and most foolish human being, to the restitching and repainting and reclaiming and reblessing of the whole cosmos. He has promised a new heaven and a new earth. We should be going into manic fits of gardening. We should plant trees just to be able to point to them and say, “Look—that beauty. That strength. That longevity. More, so much more, is coming.”

A man named Niggle paints a tree in J. R. R. Tolkien’s story “Leaf by Niggle.” His begrudging generosity to his not-so-artistic neighbors slowly decimates that painting, leaving nothing of his work in this world but a single perfectly rendered leaf on canvas. He awakens, after the long journey of death, to see his tree—but it has become real, real with an absolute and eternal reality, the ideal that his brush could never quite capture, part of a landscape so much greater than his own imagination.

I believe that at the end of our journey there will be a magnificent moment of joyful, humble surprise at what the Maker makes of our making. Until then, we paint trees and we plant them in praise and in anticipation. In my mind there is a deep connection between caring for this shy little Sheltie beside me and sitting down to write or draw or crochet or strum a guitar. Somehow my own creativity is a way of joining in that chorus of created exuberance, answering back to God, “YES. Amen. So be it.”

The things that God has made matter. The things we do here, the things we make, matter. The true and good and beautiful works of our hands will, I believe, become part of God’s Art in ways we cannot imagine now. A love for God’s creation, a fervent hope in his new creation, and an impulse toward creativity all go hand in hand. I cannot wait to see what childlike, impish gleam of humor in God’s imagination produced the duckbill platypus and the leafy seadragon and the star-nosed mole. I cannot wait to build new kinds of beauty with him in a world of infinite innovation.

Will I see my dog there? It’s too small a question. It’s almost missing the point. We will, by the grace of Christ through whom it was all made, see this brilliantly designed, big-bang-up, mathematical masterpiece of a universe raised to the infinite power—changed beyond our wildest fantasies, shaken free of death and disaster and disappointment—yet still unexpectedly, recognizably, belovedly our own.

Right now the world is full of the blaring busyness of garbage trucks and golf carts and littered with the frightening, flying, crinkling, plastic refuse of human life. My dog knows these things don’t belong. She whimpers and groans with all creation as it yearns for the day of final blaring and crinkling—Master walking through the door at last. Mountain, meadow, fur, fin, beak, paw, and whisker all renewed, remade, awaiting the familiar footfall of the saints and the touch of resurrected fingers.

Amen. So be it.

Jennifer Trafton served as the managing editor of Christian History magazine before returning to her first love, children’s literature. Her first novel, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, was a nominee for Tennessee’s 2012 Volunteer State Book Award. Jennifer lives with her husband, Pete, and teaches creative writing to children in Nashville. She’s currently working on several delightful new books such as Henry and the Chalk Dragon (to be released in 2017 from Rabbit Room Press)


36 Comments

  1. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Jennifer, I’ve been wondering when we’d see something from you on the Rabbit Room. It was worth the wait. I love this. And I aim to read “Leaf by Niggle” as soon as I’ve got a little more margin.

  2. Dana Olson

    Jennifer, Thanks for blessing me with your God-given creativity. It was cool water to a thirsty soul. I think I’ll go home and hug my little God-given creations… Hannah, Grace, and Elizabeth. Stuff like this makes me wish I was back in Retreat House all over again just to listen to more of what you have to say.

  3. Katherine

    This is so beautiful – thank you for using your abilities at the Rabbit Room, Jennifer – I love hearing from Barnabus, but I think I enjoy hearing straight from you at least as much!

  4. Janna

    Challenging and encouraging. So many quotable lines, and your last sentence nearly brought goosebumps! Thanks, Jennifer. I am all for more manic gardening fits, and less fussing over trivial grievances. My favorite wondering is the bright orange feet of a duck. They seem wholly unnecessary, but are such a delight when studied closely. Love your imagination!

  5. Loren

    This is wonderful! Thank you, Jennifer. I’m in constant need of the reminder that the little things I’m caring for/involved in today really are part of the great, beautiful work God is doing through me, and a pointer toward His glorious final masterpiece.

  6. Kyle Keating

    There is so much good theology wrapped in that magnetic prose Jennifer! God cares about his world. He didn’t create it just to wipe it out in the end. He created it with every intention that it would be restored in all its glory. Too often we imagine an abstract and ethereal heaven where nothing material happens, and we sit on our hands in angelic bliss, but the hope of our faith is in a quite material resurrection and a very material new creation. And such a hope calls us to a faithful stewardship in sub-creating and caring for this creation. Wonderful.

  7. amber

    “The true and good and beautiful works of our hands will, I believe, become part of God’s Art in ways we cannot imagine now.”

    Thank you for reminding me why it matters.

  8. KRF

    I, too, have a neurotic and fearful canine family member that has taught me much about grace and forgiveness. He has forced me to look beyond what I thought was a life filled with hopeless circumstances, instead learning to savor the feel of a saliva-covered tennis ball shoved in the crook of my neck on what I thought was my day to sleep in.

    “I believe that at the end of our journey there will be a magnificent moment of joyful, humble surprise at what the Maker makes of our making.”

    And we can all say Amen.

  9. Chris Yokel

    Jennifer, I have been reading a book by theologian N.T. Wright called Surprised By Hope, and this is exactly what he’s been talking about–how our future as Christians is not some disembodied, Platonic soul existence, but as whole, glorious, resurrected beings in a new creation. So thank you for that affirming echo.

    On another note, I almost wrote my master’s thesis on “Leaf By Niggle”. Now you’ve nearly inspired me to write that thesis I never wrote, but about new creation in Niggle.

  10. Leanne

    This validates my love of animals. We’ve got a dog, a cat, three birds, two fish, and a guinea pig in addition to our three daughters. I have such affection, especially for the guinea pig, and I DO learn grace from her. Sounds ridiculous, but she is so helpless and reserved, and yet she squeals out to be held and cuddled.

    And I feel like I know what you mean about the creative process being somehow akin to caring for God’s creatures. I was just reading about a prairie woman who wrote in her diary that she made her quilts warm to keep her family from freezing, and she made them beautiful to keep her heart from breaking. That idea has been haunting me and your words struck a mote in that same chord. Thanks.

  11. Kathryn Ross

    Jennifer! What a beautiful devotion to start my day with. You have captured the cry of my heart to joy in the Lord and experience the tangible expression of the Word through what He has created. I love “Leaf by Niggle” – powerful metaphor – and the Van Gogh illustration you used was spot on! Looking forward to seeing the beauty of my Lord today in my own backyard. Will think more on these thing – and be blessed. Joy!

  12. Dieta

    What a blessing this post was to me today. It sort of reminds me that it’s more than OK to make time for quilting, beading, gardening during the course of an all too busy day. It also evoked Sara Groves’ record Add to the Beauty. That whole CD is about how the beauty matters. Thanks:)

  13. Randall Goodgame

    @randallgoodgame

    Jennifer, thank you for this great reminder of what is most real and most promised. And I will never see that sweet little neurotic Sheltie the same way. She’s a living metaphor.

    And Dieta – Add to the Beauty came to my mind as well. Great record.

  14. kay morrison

    love these glory-full thoughts! i believe that golf carts and garbage trucks are also acts of creativity…perhaps their beauty harder to see cloaked in utility. and your dear little sheltie reflecting our hearts too…afraid our our own creativity, our beauty hidden deep, requiring the lens of faith.

  15. mike

    Welcome Jennifer. Wonderful post. A world were only love remains. The Love We Created in Christ. Sounds Amazing. Thanks you.

  16. sallie kate

    Brought to mind Romans 1:20- For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened

    I am reminded to see His character in the characteristics of creation–to be thankful for this incredible revelation. What a beautiful post.

  17. Ariel Allison Lawhon

    Jennifer, this was beautiful. Truly. My boys and I are eager to read more by you. We are a few chapters from finishing Mount Majestic and we’ve slowed down because we don’t want it to end.

    Ariel

  18. Kris

    Oh wow. What a beautiful post! This was tremendous and I am blessed for having read this. Wow. Please come back and give us some more. How have we forgotten these truths?! How have we allowed the shrapnel to blind us to the increadible glory of His creation?! I will be looking at things differently. It matters! Bless you.

  19. Caleb

    I’m pretty new to the RR; only been stopping by for a couple weeks now.
    This is one of the best things I’ve read here so far. Really beautiful stuff. Thank you.

  20. Brad

    I love the overall thrust of this. To “invest” in the world we live in, hopefully bringing the fragrance of Christ into all we do. That in everything we do, to do all to the glory of God. The beauty of the creation around us amazes me even more when I consider that the beauty I see is just residual…shining through the lens of it’s fallenness…just hints of the original design.

    While I would take issue with some of the theological implications in the article about the creation just being renewed and not destroyed and remade (the heavens and earth will pass away…Extreme Home Makeover, Eternity Edition), I do receive the exhortation that what we do here and now matters. It matters to God and matters in the souls of the lives we affect here. And it is far too often overlooked that the character of Christ in us should be reflected in the way we care for his creation.

    It may be a bit off topic, but this Tozer quote came to mind: “It is my own belief (and here I shall not feel bad if no one follows me) that every good and beautiful thing which man has produced in the world has been the result of his faulty and sin-blocked response to the creative Voice sounding over the earth. The moral philosophers who dreamed their high dreams of virtue; the religious thinkers who speculated about God and immortality, the poets and artists who created out of common stuff pure and lasting beauty…it is not enough to say simply, ‘It was genius.’ What then is genius? Could it be that a genius is haunted by the Speaking voice, laboring and striving like one possessed to achieve ends which he only vaguely understands?”

    Anyway, thanks for the beautiful article.

  21. Peter Br

    Excellent. That Van Gogh paragraph really does encapsulate the whole of this post. More and more, I find myself shrinking — like Worvil the Sheltie — from the chaotic and noisy distractions of this world and just wishing to grow stuff. I’m not sure what that means for a software consultant, but there’s encouragement to be had in the knowledge that the Maker hasn’t finished with me yet.

    Thank you for the book, and for joining your voice to the song of praise that emanates from the Rabbit Room.

  22. Lanier Ivester

    Oh, my dear, wise, beautiful friend. Thank you. I have only now had the chance to sit and savor this soaring prose as it deserves and it has been like wine to my soul. More timely than you can imagine. So good and gorgeous to be reminded that creation–God’s and ours–is ever so much wildly more than “flowery wallpaper”.

  23. Miss Linda

    This is beautiful and encouraging. But I am sad to hear about your dog! It is hard to say goodbye and to be reminded so strongly of how broken the world is and how far the effects of sin reach. I’m so thankful to know that someday, the world won’t be like this anymore.

  24. Carin Meerdink

    Jennifer and Pete,

    I’m so sorry to hear of Misty’s passing. She was a sweet girl and adjusting so well to her home constantly being invaded by rabbits. Thanks for re-sharing your earlier post. It was lovely.

  25. Rebecca Reynolds

    I’m so sad to hear this news. The love of a dog is a mighty good love to have. I’m sorry you are walking through such pain.

  26. Valerie warneke

    Thank you Jennifer!

    God used your wonderful skill with words to speak such encouragement into my soul today. I have been thinking about Heaven lately, and how today matters for eternity. Your words speak life to my artist heart. It inspires me to move from a stagnant place to pursue and express the beauty God has placed near each one of us.
    My heart goes out to you for the loss of your sweet Sheltie companion. I have a timid Sheltie, named Grace and can truely relate the your experince, and the many ways God moves in and through his creation.
    Thank you

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *