CH 1: What is Ex Materia?
During my senior of college, I wrote a book in my free time. It was called Ex Materia: How Faith Can Unleash You Creativity in a World Where Nothing is New.
The summer after I graduated, I attempted to self-publish it using the crowdfunding website known as Kickstarter. Sadly, my self-publishing campaign didn't succeed, and I was left trying to figure out how to proceed with my dream.
Unfortunately, life got busy and I placed my book on the back burner. I started my first full-time job as a communications director, and then a month later I got married.
Now that things are starting to settle down, I have decided to take the manuscript for my book and publish it here on my blog over the course of several weeks. The book still has it's rough edges and loose ends, and it's not amazing by any account, but I knew I had to put it out there for people to read. So, here it is.
My first book.
I Was Doing It All Wrong.
The sad part was I didn’t even realize it. I wanted to make a short film, but I didn’t have a good idea. I wanted to write a story, but all my plots were cliché. I was consistently frustrated and about to give up.
My name is Jackson. Who am I? Well, it’s hard to explain because I do so many different things. I’m a videographer, photographer, writer, blogger, and designer. By day, I'm a communications director at a church.
I have a passion for creativity, but it doesn’t come easy. In fact, I would call myself a struggling creator. So, if you’re familiar with any of the things that I do, just know that they are not products of mere ingrained talent and gift. I’m not saying that I don’t have any talent or that God didn’t give me specific skills, but I’ve been learning that sometimes our best work comes out of our greatest hardships. My hardship is actually going through the creative process and coming up with ideas.
And that’s a serious problem when you do the kind of work I do.
At one point, my creative fears and uncertainties were so strong that they crippled and prevented me from doing anything. I began to think that I just wasn’t very creative. Was it possible to be stuck in a constant state of creative block? If so, it was happening to me.
My struggles went on for many months until I finally had enough. I got sick and tired of never having any fresh ideas, so I decided to do something about it. I needed help.
What did I do? I turned to God.
But, before I launch into my story, I need to make a small note. The word "god" can be a little vague and impersonal at times, so I have chosen to refer to him as Yahweh throughout this book.
I’m a Christian, so it was only natural that I began to study how my faith related to the creative process. I knew there had to be some connections, so I started searching in the most logical place: the creation account in Genesis.
I had a defining moment as I studied Genesis 1 & 2. I’m reluctant to call it an epiphany because that word seems to indicate an “ah-ha!” moment, where everything suddenly falls into place. If there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about creativity, it’s that nothing ever just falls into place. It might feel like this when we’re struck with a flash of insight, but there’s a lot more happening under the surface than we can see.
Creativity is not about the light bulb moments; rather, it’s all about the unseen forces that work behind-the-scenes to bring about the “magic.”
Anyways, my epiphany-like moment came early in the morning. It was about 7:30 a.m. and I was reading the first sentence that appears in the Bible:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Having grown up in church all my life, those words weren’t new for me. I had read them hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But that morning, those words spoke to me in a profound way.
I realized in that moment that, yes, Yahweh was the ruler of the universe, but he was also the creator of it. I knew this all along, and it sounds rather silly to bring this up like it’s something new, but on this particular day it became real for me. It was brought down to a tangible level because there I was, a guy who struggled with being creative, and there was Yahweh, the biggest creative mastermind ever.
Yahweh is a master craftsmen. His work surpasses all of the greatest artists and innovators that have ever been born and ever will be born. Even Leonardo DaVinci, Hemingway, Picasso, and Shakespeare—sorry, fellas.
As I read the beginning of Genesis, I started seeing Yahweh as the Artist of artists. And then I saw who I was: the lowliest of craftsmen. I wanted desperately to create freely and easily, but for some reason being creative was an unending struggle, and I had no desire to continue swimming upstream against such an unbearable current.
As I began studying scripture, I saw who I was in relation to Yahweh. But, the real game changer was when I realized that I could go to Yahweh with my creative struggles, fears, and inabilities. After all, who better to learn from than the Creator of creators? From that day on, I realized that Yahweh was extremely relevant to my creative pursuits. As of that day, I embarked on a creative apprenticeship under the Master Creator himself.
Want to know the best part? You can do it too. Let’s get started.
Yahweh is a creator. He is the Creator of creators and Artist of artists. He can create in a way that no one else can.
There’s a Latin phrase that is often used to describe how Yahweh created the universe. The phrase is ex nihilo, and it means “out of nothing.” Yahweh can create out of nothing. He spoke things into existence that were not there before: light, space, fish, birds, plants, and more. Think about this for a second:
One moment there was nothing, the next… something.
The ability to create ex nihilo is unique to Yahweh, and it is impossible to achieve as a human. You and I, as human creators, are confined to create within the realm of what we have.
In other words, we cannot create ex nihilo.
How do we create then? The phrase ex materia is the opposite of ex nihilo. It basically means “out of something” or “out of preexisting material.” This is the kind of creating that we as finite humans can begin to wrap our minds around. It’s the kind of creating that we do.
Yahweh can do it as well. In fact, the times that he chose to create ex materia instead of ex nihilo caused me to ask some important questions.
I was fascinated by the fact that Yahweh purposefully created man and woman from something else. He did not speak them into existence, but instead carefully crafted them out of something else into who they were. For Adam, Yahweh used the dust of the earth as a starting place. For Eve, he used Adam’s rib. Yahweh created both man and women ex materia instead of ex nihilo.
Interesting. Why did Yahweh create humanity in this way?
Our Creative Nature
I believe the way in which Yahweh created humanity reflects our creative nature. Just as we were formed from the dirt, we will form things from the dust of the earth.
We are confined to creating out of what is already in existence; whether it be clay, metal, concepts, frameworks, emotions, experiences, or the beauty in the world around us.
We cannot use our minds or our bodies to create something totally and completely new.
It is within this set of boundaries that we find our workspace.
It is also within this set of boundaries that we can thrive and find creative success if we’re willing to do the work that it requires.