On Living Creatively: Winter 2019
A number of years ago, I had an incredible opportunity to visit England. I’ve always been a fan of all things British, and I loved the chance to see and experience firsthand places like Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. I remember being particularly struck, though, by the grandeur and beauty—and history—of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The original cathedral, which had stood on the site for more than a thousand years, was one of the casualties of the Great Fire of London in 1666, which destroyed two-thirds of the city.
After the fire, an architect named Christopher Wren was commissioned to design and rebuild the cathedral. Even though he was involved in the design and construction of dozens of other churches in London after the Great Fire—55 in all—he always viewed St. Paul’s as his crowning architectural achievement. Until his death in 1723 at the age of 91, Wren was known to visit the cathedral and sit under its dome.
If you visit it today, you can sit where he sat and look up at the beautiful dome he designed. And if you look down, you will see a large brass circular plaque which repeats the words from Wren’s tomb, which lies below the floor in the crypt of St. Paul’s. The inscription concludes with these last words, which have come to be regarded as one of the world’s most famous epitaphs:
“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around.”
In other words, don’t look here at the floor. Don’t look at this plaque. Don’t look at the tomb where his body lies. Instead, if you want to see what Christopher Wren did—if you want to see his legacy—look up. Look around. Look at the soaring spaces. Look at the glorious views. Look at the dome which points beyond itself to something greater. Look at this place of worship, which draws our attention to eternity.
As a designer and architect, Wren was certainly creative in one particular, specific way. But his life is also a reminder that each of us—made in the image of a God who created the world we inhabit—is also invited to create.
Maybe God isn’t asking you to create a domed cathedral, but I promise you that God is inviting you to some particular calling—to some particular way to creatively serve that only you can accomplish. As British author and theologian John Henry Newman writes: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.” And you do too.
As it relates to your own creativity—and as one way to discover what your specific creative mission might be—it may be a useful exercise to ask: “Where would people look to see my monument?” That question may help you to identify and see the ways God is already using you to create a more caring and loving world. It may also help you to recognize the places where, like Wren, you can help to build and construct a more beautiful view from what currently appear to be only ashes.
Blessings on Living
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