An Invitation to Partnership in Creation

One of the things I brought home with me from my visit to New York this past week is a booklet of songs composed by my friend Frank some years ago. Looking through the booklet on my flight back to Minneapolis yesterday, I was struck by the introductory note he wrote to his songs. His approach to his composition was inspired by a note Liszt included on one of his pieces: “intelligent use of the pedal implied throughout,” a designation Frank characterized as “at once flattering, challenging, and inviting.”

In composing his own songs in this booklet, a copy of which he gave me to bring to my daughter, Frank noted that he omitted indications of tempo, dynamics and the like, leaving the notes “stark and uncluttered with interpretive demands.” Evoking Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, he wrote, “This is my outstretched hand, my invitation and wish that you become a partner in their creation.”

How very much like God with us, I thought as soon as I read the words. God doesn’t micromanage. God doesn’t give us a full set of detailed instructions that determine our every move. Instead, God gives us the broad strokes of what he would like from us, expecting “intelligent use” of the gifts he has given us, inviting each of us to “become a partner in…creation.”

That is not something everyone finds all that comfortable. Just as I’m sure some pianists would prefer that a composer tell them exactly what the phrasing and dynamics of a song should be, many people would prefer that God tell us exactly what it is God wants us to do in every situation so that we can simply follow his instructions. And I admit, I have found myself on occasion saying to God, “Just tell me what you want from me and I’ll do it.”

But what an invitation in the freedom we are given! God’s wish for us is “at once flattering, challenging and inviting.” And there is a risk in it to the creator. Frank takes the risk that some pianist will take his creation and play it in a way completely discordant with how he thinks it should be. Likewise does God take a risk. Like the pianists playing Frank’s songs, we at times may not do things exactly as God might have if he were making all the decisions without our participation. (And sometimes we mangle it quite badly.) Nonetheless, God says, be my partner in creation. Help determine what it will look like.

Frank ends his introductory note with an allusion to an old Zen proverb, likening musical notation to “a finger pointing at the moon,” suggesting that “[i]f you look, you may find flecks of light shimmering here and there, between and behind the ciphers and signposts in what follows.” God might say much the same – find those shimmering flecks and, with my guidance, my love and presence, make of them what you will.