The Nature of Creativity, Nature, and Delight

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When we think of names people give God, Creativity usually doesn’t come to mind. Yet scripture scholars say that God’s most fundamental relationship with the cosmos is as its continual creator and sustainer. God’s always creating. We do call God, after all, the Creator. So, if it’s in God’s DNA to create (so to speak), then exploring the nature of creativity might lead us to insights as to how God relates to the works of his hands.

I don’t know how many times I have heard an artist say that, when they started writing or sculpting, they didn’t know what the finished product would look like. Authors, for instance, talk about characters taking on lives of their own and leading their stories in directions the writers never anticipated. Speaking for myself, when it start to write a simple blog entry, I often end up seeing things I never had thought of before. By wrestling with ideas or issues and reflecting on them I gain insights and end up in a place different from where I had started. The creative process involves working with the material and walking with it to a destination neither one fully anticipates.

In a similar way the creative process often leads the artist to new media and forms of expression. I have played music ever since I was a boy. However, I never intended to be a musician. When young, I had watched too many tv shows where a young boy had to take piano lessons instead of playing ball with the gang. So, I thoroughly resisted any suggestion that I take piano. When I injured my knee one summer and couldn’t go outside, my parents said I should take lessons for one year. It would give me something to do and, if I didn’t like them, I could quit when the year was up. After two lessons I asked if I had to stop. I was hooked.

My encounter with the piano opened my ears to the thrill of making music, a thrill that continues to this day. The piano led to flute and band. The folk revival led to guitar and singing. Folk music led to the mountain dulcimer and a dissertation on Appalachia. Now I play old-time (traditional) banjo and accompany myself on the guitar while I sing Latin singer-250933_640American boleros and zambas. As I encounter new instruments, genres, and communities, over time my world expands and I find new ways to express who I am. I’ve learned that creativity by nature involves a dynamic relationship between the creative artist and the material she works with. It involves surprise and freedom, and results in the joy of discovery. Rather than trying to control the outcome, the artist engages with the raw material in a give and take. Together they take a walk and end up somewhere new.

If our creativity at all resembles God’s, then God must operate similarly. If God controlled everything, making things exactly fit her idea of the way things should be, then there would be no delight and surprise in the way things turned out. God wouldn’t work with the raw material of matter, energy, DNA, ecosystem relationships and culture and watch to see what emerges from its depths. He would be satisfied and pleased, perhaps, but not delighted because delight flows from surprise and whimsy. It’s hard to be surprised when you already know the end of the story. Adults love to watch children play because they never cease to surprise us. So do animals. Joy flows from discovery and serendipity. Our joyful God who delights in all she has made rejoices over the hippopotamuses, sunsets, sequoias, guitarists, and Polynesians. Perhaps if we learned to collaborate creatively with nature like God does, we might help create an even more amazing world. For sure it would be delightful.

Certificate in Contemplation and Creation Care
Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South

 

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Author: Robert "Robin" Gottfried

Director, Center for Religion and Environment at Sewanee: The University of the South, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Sewanee. Contemplative Christian, musician, blogger for the Huffington Post on religion and environment, and hiker living on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee.

2 thoughts on “The Nature of Creativity, Nature, and Delight”

  1. I remember man years ago riding on a mountain bike trail in the Colorado mountains and coming around a corner to be suddenly face to face with a big porcupine sitting right in the middle of the trail. I had never met one before. I stopped and stood very still, and we stared at each other for a long time, before he got up, turned around, and made his way ponderously off into the brush. He was an amazing creature; very serious-looking, covered with long spines, but when he turned around, I realized that to be able to sit down, he of course had a bare butt. I hope he wasn’t offended that I burst out laughing, but it was just in delight at the unexpected sight, and the thought that God must have had a lot of fun designing a porcupine!
    You are right; the very best pieces of art are ones that go off in unexpected directions; when I say “Well, I didn’t expect THAT to happen!” during making a piece of art, I know I’m on the right track.

    Like

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