Divine Artistry

A stream winding down between rugged hills in the Gap of Dunloe

 

Genesis 1-2:3

There is something for everyone in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis, for there you find not one but two versions of the creation story. Some are more drawn to the storyteller’s version in Chapters two and three: interesting characters made out of clay and ribs, lush scenery, symbolic trees, a talking snake, suspense and intrigue, crime and punishment, God as seamstress making clothes for the dejected humans who must make their way into the world. The story, with all of its details and human elements, draws us in and keeps us on the edge of our seats. Who doesn’t like a good story?

The drama in the Chapter One creation narrative is a little different. Rather than a homey, backyard story about our ancestors, this Creation account is presented on a grand, sweeping scale. This is the Big Picture version, the lie on your back in a field at night far from the city and marvel at the spangled sweep of the Milky Way edition of the creation story. Chapter 1 is “Call in the Poets,” who find the right words and images to proclaim as Gerard Manley Hopkins does: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” The poet God is at work here, who draws from the deep imagery of a confused cauldron of chaos being transformed into the Kew gardens. This creation story has a majestic, liturgical feel to it, as if the author imagined it being sung with full orchestral accompaniment in the Sagrada Familia.

We close our eyes and listen to these words: “In the beginning…” and God’s abundance, generosity, imagination, and creativity spool out across our mind’s eye. A cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, trees, flowers, meadows, fields, mountains, oceans, sky, all emerging from darkness into light and back to darkness as the world turns. Animals emerge from the landscape and birds soar through the skies and finally, human beings evolve from this great pot of God’s creativity. Just thinking about the scope of creation is downright exhausting. No wonder God had to take a big nap on the seventh day, and dream sweet dreams of creative juiciness. What’s not to love about this busy, imaginative God, who is so asorbed by the flow of Her creative, borning activity that She barely notices the days and nights ticking by?

I see a playful God here, wondering, experimenting: “Hmm, what would happen if I put a tail on this ape or on this star arcing through the sky?” I see a God mesmerized by what is slowly emerging, waiting to see how it all turns out, making space for the great emergence that we call evolution. The whole thing takes my breath away. But the thing that I feel most captivated by in the image of God set forth in this story is the God who is tickled pink by the creation, in the joy of creative activity. Over and over again, throughout this account, we are told of the pleasure God takes in God’s creation. God sees what God has created and says: “Sweet! This is really good.” God sees and declares it all good. “That star, this moon, that field of poppies, this jagged mountain range, that ocean, this blueberry bush, this dog, that mountain lion, this person, that human being…it’s all good.” I imagine God rubbing God’s hands together, surveying God’s creative largesse and saying: “Love it!” God is basking in the delight of satisfaction.

Certainly this is good news for the creation. Theologically speaking, rather than focus on the “fallenness” of creation the claim “it is good” affirms that we spring from “original blessing.” “It is good!” proclaims that all of creation is a beautiful gift from God. Starting from an affirmation of creation’s goodness is no small matter. And calling creation “good” has profound implications not only for ourselves, but it gives us motivation for theological ecology, an imperative to care for our sacred planet.

What I find most compelling here is the capacity of the One who creates to be satisfied with what has been created. Over and over again, as if God is practicing the skill of affirming one’s creative efforts God expresses pleasure and satisfaction in God’s efforts. “Nice job! Beautiful! Way to go!” God is not reported as second guessing God’s creative actions: “Gee, should I have put those stripes on the Zebra, or made that Giraffe’s neck so long?” God isn’t wishing She had added more blue to the skies or tried a more shades of green for the hills. God isn’t portrayed as saying: “Making human beings in this way is probably going to lead to some problems in the long run, perhaps its time for a re-do on that model.” Rather, God’s initial response is to be downright delighted in God’s creative process.

Do you have to be God to pull that off? Do you have to be God to create something and right away clap your hands in delight and say “that’s really good”? Do you have to be God to be creative and to be immediately flooded by joy, satisfaction, and love for the creation? The theological assumption behind this Creation story is that human beings are created in the image of God, the Creator. Therefore, we too are creative. Being creative is at the heart, the essence of being God’s human creations. It is in our creativity that we are most deeply connected to God.

I recently ran across quote on an art blog from Mark Batterson’s book Primal: “If God is infinitely creative and we are not just created in God’s image but called to be conformed to God’s image, then creativity isn’t optional. Creativity is a dimension of spiritual maturity. To become more like the Creator is to become more creative. When we use our sanctified imagination to serve God’s purposes, we are doing what God does best and loves most.” So to be living out of our best selves, created in God’s image, is to actively develop our creativity.

Some who have done extensive research on creativity define a Creative person with a capital “C” as someone who makes a new contribution to their culture. These are the Big Creatives like scientists or artists (Einstein, Michelangelo) who have deep knowledge of their field and out of that create something that provides a seismic shift in their field or in the world. But there is also creativity with a small “c.” The daily acts of creativity we engage in.

We all express this creativity in different ways. Perhaps your creativity is music or singing, or cooking a beautiful meal, or writing a poem, or the simple act of bringing order out of chaos when you make your bed each morning. Some of our creativity is spontaneous and natural and sometimes we make an effort to learn a skill, such as painting, in order to be creative in that way. More often than not, whether it is creativity with a capital or lowercase “c” the initial, spontaneous response I hear from many people about their creative work is usually not: “Wow, that is good!” Perhaps I’m just projecting my own struggle with creativity here, but I see way too many people shut down their capacity for creativity with criticism rather than nourish their creativity by celebrating of what they have created. I’m not talking about the thoughtful approach to improving what we create, the impulse to develop better skills that in turn create more beautiful things in the world. Rather I’m inviting us to entertain the idea, if not the spiritual practice, of celebrating our expressions of creativity. To say of our best efforts: “This is good,” or perhaps as psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott would say in the best sense of the expression: “Good enough.”

Perhaps there is some connection between our inability to celebrate our own creative efforts and our inability to value God’s creation. Perhaps there is a connection between our reflexive impulse to rain criticisms on our best efforts and our inability to see the good in all of God’s creation. That our destruction of our planet- the beautiful earth, sea, sky, air, and inhabitants of our world- is somehow mirrored by our impulse to reject and de-value our own creations.

Could it be that when we practice embracing the little treasures we create here and there as good, that we are building our capacity to be more like God who says “Isn’t this splendid.” Could it be that the harsh, unkind criticisms we level against our art in our fits of perfectionism diminish our ability to take the whole world into our arms and declare it loved?

The practice of celebrating our creativity might in some way prepare us, enable us, to save this good, good world God is so pleased to have created. What have you created lately? A friendship, a garden, a thoughtfully written paper? A network of kind connections around you, a conscientious piece of work at the office, a song, a piece of art? Turn down the voice of the Inner Critic, who will destroy whole worlds if you let it. And echo the voice of God: “It is good. It is good.” It’s good practice for saving the world. AMEN