Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Creating and the Imago Dei

In talking to some clergy friends last night from other denominations, the question arose as to how learning Hebrew and Greek in an academic setting contributes to the sermon writing process. One woman said, "I never took Greek, but whenever I want to know what a word is in the original scripture, I can just look it up, so I'm not sure if taking the languages would help me at all."

As I reflected on this, I realized that much of what sticks with me from my very brief stint as a language scholar isn't the vocabulary or even the grammar of the languages (although I pointed out to my friend that there are a lot of nuances in Greek--noun declension, for example--that add to our understanding, but are difficult to comprehend without a little bit of study). What sticks with me the most are the little contextual details and cultural-linguistic ties that my professors were excited to share with us.

For example, I remember learning that in Genesis, the words for "creating" and "making" are deliberately NOT used interchangeably, even though we English-speakers might not discern any significant difference (definitionally speaking) between the two terms. Instead the act of "creating" is reserved for God, while human beings are makers. Creation is a divine act.

Part of the reason that this has stuck with me is that I have realized over the years that I feel most attuned to my spirituality and relationship with God, most tranquil and whole, when I'm creating something. Well, making something--the things that I produce require tools and materials that I'm not responsible for bringing into existence--but making something using the internal resource that we call creativity. It doesn't matter if I'm repainting an old cabinet, cross-stitching, taking photographs, coloring a mandala, making a mosaic out of pottery shards, or writing poetry. Whenever I am "creative-ing", I feel closer to God.

Before anyone pulls out the Book of Order and flips frantically to the "Discipline" section, I'm not claiming that I'm divine. Not at all. But I am tuning into the traditional idea of human beings being created in the image of God--Imago Dei.

Although most people who hold the Bible as an authority agree that we're created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) we all disagree on what this means exactly. At our worst, we insist that it has to do with limbs and body parts and even genitals (this is sometimes used as an argument for why women are theologically inferior to men). Other times, we argue that it has to do our possession of souls (which put animal lovers in a weird place--do I get to see Fido in the afterlife if he doesn't have a soul?). One of my personal favorite interpretations is that our creation in God's image has to do with our communal identity--humanity AS A WHOLE, not necessarily my personal existence, reflects the image of God. But I also wonder if maybe Imago Dei has something to do with our capacity to create, our creativity. Our ability to see something in our minds that didn't previously exist in the world, and coax it into being through our hands, our feet, our mouths, our bodies...through US.

I'm reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong for a continuing education trip that I'm going on in a week and a half, and she refers to something that she calls, "Creativity Scars."  In her research, she discovered that 85% of her interview subjects could point to a specific incident during childhood that changed how they felt about their own learning ability, and that half of these incidences involved a creative act--they were told that they weren't good writers, artists, musicians, etc. This further reminded me of a time when my sister, who gravitated towards art classes in High School, was given a C on a project. She was indignant, saying, "How the heck can you even GIVE a C in art??? Isn't it subjective??? How can you name something as BAD ART???"

I think I tend to agree with her. The whole point of creativity isn't to make something that fits a definition that someone else has created. It's to make something that HAS NEVER BEEN BEFORE. And friends...that is a pretty spectacular ability. At worst, that's a spectacular gift from God. At best, it's God's nature shining through us. Certainly, we all have different tastes about what we like to look at, listen to, or partake in as far as "art" is concerned. But if we stop thinking about art as a vehicle for providing products for our consumption, and start thinking about it as a valuable process that brings us closer to our true nature as reflections of the creator God, I think it will change the way we view the world around us.

So next time you find yourself criticizing something that someone has created, challenge yourself to reframe your thinking in order to see it as an example of the divine breaking through. In bring that object into existence, they've participated in a divine act. And no matter who you are, that's pretty darn impressive.


Edit: Although I doubt God experiences creation this way, I thought this comic was an interesting way of looking at the human creative process.

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