As a young lad in church I often heard the preacher intone the opening words of the bible from the book of Genesis “In the beginning God created heaven and earth…” Whereupon I would wonder: “Yes, but who created God? And then, “and who could have created the creator of God?” On and on I would ponder myself into an infinite regress that plunged me into fathomless, infinite, eternal depths:
Of course now that I’m all grown up I’ve got this all completely figured out – NOT! Yes, I’ve learned that some scientists say it doesn’t require a God to explain the origins of the universe – that 13.8 billion years ago there was a big bang, before which the entire universe – with 200 billion to 500 billion galaxies, each of which has hundreds of billions of stars, plus all that mysterious dark matter that we can’t see that physicists say makes up five sixths of the universe – ALL of that exploded from something smaller than a subatomic particle -how could that be?! Yet there are other scientists, philosophers and theologians who note that there are fundamental, precise physical constants that have allowed for the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, and the chemical elemental diversity that has enabled life to evolve – and they contend that it is all so finely, amazingly calibrated that this could not have happened by mere chance – that there must be some sacred organizational intelligence behind the whole business. That’s where I come down (note: there is no official “UU” answer to this question), but then I wonder, just as I did as a child, how did such a creative source ever come into being? How did anything at all come to be? Why is there something instead of nothing?
It’s just inconceivable and all I can say is “Wow! What a wondrous mystery!”
Even as it seems impossible to explain the creation of everything, so is it very challenging – if you really think about it – to account for human creativity. The ancients – who were not intellectual lightweights – just threw in the towel on this one. Plato and other Greek philosophers simply claimed that people were not capable of creativity – that we merely discover that which already exists. As Plato noted: “Will we say, of a painter, that he creates something? Certainly not, he merely imitates.” He and other ancient ones – including early Jews and Christians – believed that creativity was the sole province of the gods – that we mortals lack the power to create anything new, that whatever we might seem to create is merely an expressions of God’s work. You can see how they arrived at this conclusion: After all, humans cannot actually create something “ex nihilo” – out of nothing – we can only work with the already created raw materials at hand. The potter shapes the clay into a pot, but did she create the clay or the empty space? The composer arranges notes but did he create sound? Nope. So, strange as it may sound to modern ears, for most of history no one had created a concept of human creativity.
Then came the European Renaissance when humanist thinkers began to assert that we are indeed capable of creativity – at least the great ones among us, like Michelangelo and Schleierbach – (have you ever seen his great paintings? No, well that’s because I created him in my imagination – or at least it seems that way to me. Maybe I’m periodically possessed by an irreverent comic muse who puts goofy ideas in my head.) This idea that humans could actually be creative didn’t really gain traction, though, for several centuries when it was championed by enlightenment philosophers. So, finally, we got the green light – we humans can be creative. So go and forth and create!
Well, good luck on that one. I’ve often tried and failed. There I am working on a sermon and nothing special is coming out – the thoughts and words that come to mind are dull, boring, predictable, preachy. In my mind’s eye I can see my preaching professor from theology school days- Dr. Craddock – admonishing us: “preaching boring sermons is a SIN! Your preaching should not cast your listeners down into the purgatorial realms of utter boredom.” And yet I know that if I write what my conscious mind is producing, I will indeed be committing the sin of predictable, boring preaching. I give up – it’s just not coming. I haven’t met my writing quota for the day. It’s a dreadful feeling.
Hours later that day, I’m being pulled through the neighborhood by Polo, our Border Collie, whose physical exuberance for life exceeds my own. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an intriguing thought comes to mind. Or sometimes it’s just the right illustration or a story or quote or metaphor or the example of an old memory. The opening that frees me from my sermonic impasse has appeared! This happens time and time again. How? This I do know: I don’t make it happen – not me. It happens TO me. I’M not being creative – I’m not that special. Creativity happens and it’s a mystery. . Writer Elizabeth Gilbert has noted the same mysterious phenomena and says that the Renaissance/ Enlightenment Humanist perspective on creativity is problematic. Why? Because it gives undue credit to individuals. Gilbert – who wrote the widely acclaimed “Eat, Pray, Love” sees herself not as a source of creativity but as a conduit for it. She further notes that thinking that YOU are creative is a recipe for disaster – on the one hand, those who believe they are uniquely anointed to be creative may well become more swell headed and narcissistic or, on the other, they may well feel crushed by the burden of having to be creative.
One evening I took a walk with a young composer and complimented him on the creativity of his beautiful music – he modestly brushed aside my praise, noting that many people are conduits for creativity and yet it’s not recognized – even by themselves. He disdains the affectations of those artists who seem to regard themselves as somehow “special” – a cut above the rest of us.
Is it true that everyone can be a conduit for creativity? If so, why might that be important to mention here, during a worship service?
Well, it’s important because there is so much destructivity in our world – it comes at us from many different directions – internal and external. Whenever we allow hate, anger, bitterness, greed, fear – any spiritual toxin – to poison our hearts and minds there are self-destructive consequences. Whenever we allow such poisons to leach out into our world there are socially destructive consequences. Such destruction separates and isolates us – it destroys trust, happiness and well-being, -it blocks out the sun of love and joy and peace. There is so much destructivity that leads to so much suffering and sorrow in our world. Too much.
Is there any help for this? No, there isn’t. We’re doomed. End of sermon. Hope you enjoy the rest of your day.
Or do you disagree with that dire assessment? Well, then, what could counter such destructivity? How about creativity – spiritual creativity? What is that? Spiritual creativity is any thought, word or deed that manifests through you and brings more love, compassion, justice, hope, joy, courage into some corner of the world– it’s the life affirming elixir that serves as the antidote to destructive toxins.
How about your corner of the world? What’s going on there? I hope nothing but good and wonderful things, but certainly that is not for everyone here. Maybe you, or those around you, are stuck in grim, predictable, boring destructive patterns that are blocking out the light of love. Maybe you’re trying to change this but spiritual creativity just isn’t happening.
The Hindu sage Ramakrishna once noted that “the winds of God’s grace are always blowing. It is for us to raise our sails”: let me paraphrase that to affirm that “the winds of creativity are always blowing – it is for us to unfurl our being.” If you do align your heart and mind to receive spiritually creativity – it will come – I trust that is so. That is my faith. Prepare yourself to receive it and have faith that these winds will blow. (the Spirit listeth where it will….)
In the grand scheme of things, do our small acts of spiritual creativity really matter?
I often find the answer to this when I’m preparing memorial services for those I have known and loved. I meet with the families and friends and they tell me all sorts of delightful stories about the one who has died. As I record these remembrances I’m often struck by a realization: what is really important in life are those countless acts of spiritual creativity – those words and deeds that bring more light into our world – that’s what matters – that’s what is remembered.
Isn’t it amazing – really – that we exist at all? – that we are part of this ongoing story that stretches back further than our imaginations can fathom? Isn’t it amazing that we can be conduits for a positive creative energy and that through our lives more light can come into creation? How did all this come to be? I don’t know. It’s a miracle. An ongoing miracle whose beginning is always newly beginning. Thanks be for that.