The Common Good

God Loves a Holy Mess

During an arts festival this summer in Cincinnati, one of the artists was making bowls on a pottery wheel. As he dug his fingers into the spinning wet clay, it oozed all over his hands. So messy! But he seemed to enjoy getting dirty as part of his creative act.

 Potter's hands on a wheel, bluelake /
Potter's hands on a wheel, bluelake /

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Which raises a point: Do we really appreciate a good mess? 

An old saying suggests that cleanliness is next to Godliness. But what if the opposite is true? What if messiness is holiness?

All creativity is messy. Potters get covered with clay, sculptors get spattered with chiseled stone, artists get colored by the paint on their palettes, writers hit the delete button over and over. It’s part of the process. No mess, no creation.

The same goes for our countless creative acts each day — making decisions, sustaining a family, nurturing a church, building a relationship, reforming a society. It takes great creativity just to be ourselves. And messes are a natural part of living creatively.

Consider our creator’s handiwork. God’s universe is creative chaos — cosmic collisions and stellar explosions that give birth to new planets and new stars. Here on earth, our first breath is so miraculous and yet so messy! Embryonic fluids and blood cover us and baptize us during a very gooey entrance into the fuller world.

Biblical writers suggest that God loves a holy mess. They compare God’s creative spirit to a strong wind, and we all know what happens when a powerful wind blows through our windows or through our lives — everything gets upended! One image in Genesis has God scooping up a bit of earth to create us. Yes, God had to get some dirt under the fingernails in order to bring us about.

Jesus was creative in how he touched and healed people, often making himself ritually unclean in the process. He embraced his uncleanliness.

Sadly, many religious institutions discourage us from doing the same. They want their followers to color inside pre-drawn lines using only the crayons provided — only black and white ones. And don’t combine the two to form any shades of gray. They prefer adherents over divinely inspired artists. Rather than opening their windows and letting God’s creative spirit blow where it may, they nail them shut and pull the shades.

The same could be said for many of our endeavors. When we try to accomplish something, we run into the inevitable snags, get discouraged, and are tempted to stop. We’d rather discard the half-finished bowl instead of putting our clay-covered fingers back to work to smooth it out.

So, what about us? Do we tend to think of messiness as a bad thing or a divine thing? What is it about messiness that makes us uncomfortable? Should we embrace and celebrate it? If we try to avoid creative messes, are we missing out on something important? When your hands get dirty, do they remind you of God?

What do you think?

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

Image: Potter's hands on a wheel, bluelake /

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