Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Creating alongside God

Lynne Baab • Friday August 14 2015

Creating alongside God

This week I published a novel, a murder mystery set in Dunedin, New Zealand, my adopted home town. The title is Death in Dunedin. Like me, the main character, Lena, is a Presbyterian minister from Seattle who moves to Dunedin, New Zealand. Her story diverges from mine pretty dramatically at that point. She’s on a church exchange, and soon after her arrival she finds a dead man in the church parking lot.

Since I normally write non-fiction, I want to spend a little time reflecting on the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction.

I LOVE studying something and then helping someone else learn it. I might help them learn by leading a discussion on the subject and steering the discussion in the direction that I think will help people grasp the content. That’s my primary teaching style. I also love explaining things clearly to help people learn. I view this attribute – loving to learn and then loving to help others learn the same material – as the key component of the spiritual gift of teaching (mentioned in Romans 12:7 and Ephesians 4:11). I believe teaching is my primary spiritual gift, and I believe I use that gift when in the classroom and in my writing.

So my style of writing non-fiction comes from my spiritual gift of teaching. I value clarity above all else. I want to help people see things more clearly and think more deeply.

Fiction is something different. Sure, I still value clarity in my fiction, but fiction mirrors God’s creativity in a way that writing non-fiction doesn’t. Theologians say that God created ex nihilo, meaning from nothing. Because humans have to use something in the created world in order to make something else from it, theologians say we cannot possibly create ex nihilo.

I agree with that statement theologically, but on a visceral level when I write fiction I feel that I am creating ex nihilo in a way that reflects God’s creativity. With non-fiction, I take ideas I have learned from books and interviews, and I synthesize them, organize them and clarify them. Writing non-fiction definitely doesn’t feel like creation ex nihilo.

With fiction, sure I’m taking words that I didn’t create and I’m using them to build a story. But my characters and what happens to them come out of my imagination. In fact, they seem to come to me from nothing. They are just there in my head. When I get an idea for a character and when that character’s actions and words come to me, it feels like I’m creating ex nihilo alongside God in a very, very small way. It’s the coolest feeling, thrilling and full of passion.

It’s clear to me that I write non-fiction better than fiction. But hey, my non-fiction is quite good (speaking in attempted modesty), so maybe my fiction is pretty good. Back in the early 90s I wrote 8 short stories and 4 novels. I’ve already revised and published two of those novels (Dead Sea and Deadly Murmurs). The novel I published this week was written in 2009, two years after we moved to New Zealand. The main character, Lena (also the heroine of Deadly Murmurs), enjoys learning things about New Zealand and explaining them clearly in blog posts (like me) but she is also intrepid physically with lots of energy for kind-hearted interchanges with people (unlike me).

I’m hoping to revise the other two novels I wrote twenty years ago and publish them, and I’d also like to publish a collection of my short stories. Someday.

Meanwhile, I’d encourage you to think about the forms of creativity that fill you with joy and that help you experience that feeling of creating alongside God, even if it’s in a very small way. Human creativity in myriad forms is one of the joys of life, and I think that’s because it helps us feel God’s companionship in a unique way.

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