Image: Thad Zajdowicz. On display at the Renwick Gallery, Janet Echelman's 1.8, 2015 is a creation of knotted and braided fiber with programmable lighting and wind movement above printed textile flooring.
Picture a creator in your mind. What are they creating? Maybe it is a work of art or a piece of music? Maybe they are creating a computer game or a new plan for the city? Or something else entirely. What are some characteristics of this creator? What is the process by which they are creating? How long does it take? Is it done from beginning to end, without corrections? Or do they keep revisiting the creation, tweaking it here and there to make it better?
Now, imagine the creation of the universe. Do you picture a creator? If so, what is that creator like? How is this creation occurring?
Having imagined creation in two contexts, let me present two creation stories for your contemplation.
Imagine a sea of nothingness. This is a special type of nothingness. It is alive with constant change. This is the void or vacuum—or lowest energy state—of the quantum description of reality. One way to picture the void is a vast expanse of nothingness in which bubbles constantly appear and disappear. These bubbles are incredibly small universes. They are the space and time out of which the rest of a physical universe would emerge.
Suddenly, one of these bubble achieves a critical size and continues to grow. It emerges from the vacuum and continues to grow and expand. As space expands, light and particles emerge and interact with each other. Eventually, the light separates from the particles. The particles continue to interact with each, forming clumps that eventually become stars, galaxies, and planets.
On one of these planets, life emerges, and eventually, humanity. This is a process by which physical reality emerges from non-physical reality. A physical reality that obeys specific rules and in which, specific processes occur. There is no need for a creator, per se. And certainly, the images of a creator that is completely separate from the physical reality does not seem to fit nicely with this image.
Now, imagine another “sea of nothingness”, the womb inside a woman. Like our vacuum state, it is actually not nothing. It is an active space of cellular activity, and at time eggs attempt to implant and grow, but not successfully. Eventually, there is an egg (and sperm combination) that implants and grows. This is the cell out of which a baby will eventually form. During the entire process of growth and differentiation (the analogy to the formation of stars, planets, and galaxies, and then life and people), the new reality, the baby, obeys a well-defined set of rules. A mini “scientist” within the baby would be able to study and learn these rules, and never, through science, deduce the existence of the mother.
But, through the entire process, the mother is intimately involved in creation through a life giving physics connection, the umbilical cord, and an emotional and spiritual concern for all aspects of the baby. The mother cannot control every aspect of what happens within the baby, but is always there, monitoring, caring for, and ensuring the health and safety of the baby. The baby is both an integral part of the mother and separate from the mother. This image of creator and created meshes seamlessly and beautifully with the scientific story of creation as fluctuations from the void.
The mother and baby are a metaphor. And like all metaphors, it has some limitations but also real power. It provides a path to contemplating a creation that is both part of the creator and separate from the creator. Something that appears to be a paradox, but allows for God to be everywhere and within everything.
It allows for a creator and a moment of creation at which physical reality emerges. And yet, it speaks to a concept of continual creation and ongoing involvement of the creator with creation. It illustrates a creator that cares deeply and is intimately involved with creation while allowing creation to obey well-defined rules and have a level of independence. Finally, it speaks to a creator that is present and engaged in reality in a way that is not obvious and not necessarily physical.
Contemplating creation and the existence of a creator, it helps to focus on what the nature of the creator and the relation between the creator and the created. Embracing new images and metaphors, like the mother and child, help us explore the creation story in interesting and exciting ways.