Over the past few decades, I have heard an increasing number of indigenous elders, especially those comfortable with English, use the term “Creator” when speaking to or about God. Recently, I have tried to pay close attention to the elders who use this term, trying to understand what it indicates and why it’s being used so often. It is not a direct translation of any of the many words used to describe “God” in indigenous languages, though it is often implied within them. Its use appears to have developed out of spiritual experience. It says something that many elders wish to emphasize at this time.
The term “Creator” is most often heard in prayer and in moments that might be described as devotional. It is frequently used when someone has experienced a moment of grace or joy in life. Some use it when significant spiritual insight is gained, a startling truth lovingly hidden in the everyday details of living.
The elders tell us that life is a Sacred Circle. Spirit and matter are inter-woven and inseparable. All things are personally and lovingly inhabited by the Creator, who animates all things, in and through the Spirit. So, Creator, as the elders use the term, implies the great presence and personality of God in all of life. This must be why Jesus, who in his life, death and resurrection is the embodiment of the living Word and wisdom within Creation, is such a compelling and attractive figure for so many elders.
The concept of Creation, as it is used in modern speech, is often indistinguishable from Western concepts of nature, a realm that is thought by many, if not most, to be separate from the realm of the spiritual. In contrast, when the elders use the term “Creator,” they indicate that the Spirit is the fundamental reality in all of Creation.
Though the term “Creator” describes the intimacy of God’s presence, it also implies the great mystery of God, which can only be known in part-in loving gesture, in the goodness of Creation, in the sound of music and in prayer. Words alone don’t do any justice to the fullness of the meaning of the term “Creator.” Perhaps the words of Maximus the Confessor, a Christian elder of the seventh century, describe the elders’ concern in the very best way: the entire world is a burning bush of God’s energies. Ω
Mark MacDonald is national indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.