We are in a time where questions of origin are common. Science probes the universe in search of beginnings, while culture critics look afresh at how the creative impulse and imagination shape the values and practices of a society. And the world of the arts has many seeking to discern the mystery of our power to make things – things beautiful, meaningful and inspiring.
The human psyche is bent toward an inquiry about where we have come from and why we do what we do and from whence comes the universal inclination to make things. Exploring creativity, what it means and how it works is a challenging undertaking.
But the effort to gain some clarity about creativity is much needed now that the term “creativity” is being over employed to apply to an ever widening range of activities.
The enterprise of human making is inescapable, it is woven into the fabric of what it means to be human and ultimately – as I see it – draws from the One who has made all things and set them in motion.
Though historically Western notions of creativity have been commonly connected with a religious or theological understanding of the world, in a secular culture the agenda entails that all such connections be severed.
So in the absence of religious assumptions, including belief in a Creator – how we understand creativity takes a quite different shape. However it appears that efforts to recover the link between the human gift of “making” and historic theological themes are becoming more common. If one adopts the view that there is indeed a connection between divine creativity and the human capacity to engage in crafting things one has at least three options as to how to understand the connection.
First we can think of human making as expressing originality something done by an artistic genius. Secondly we can speak of our art as communication, the expression of our thoughts and feelings and thirdly we can hold that our capacity to create serves to impact the world – in a transforming way. We take the ordinary and make it into something exceptional that brings (perhaps surprisingly) significant change. I find myself hovering over these options not sure just where to land. The latter two have more appeal for me yet my inclination is to shape some version of human making that takes all three of these into its meaning and activity. In the first I am drawn to the possibility of the “new”, in the second the prerogative to communicate, and in the third the potential to bring change to the world – as through a redemptive gesture. The resonances with theology and the biblical narrative are evident.
Belief in God entails that whatever creative capacity we have as human beings comes to us a ‘gift’. There is however an issue – a glitch if you will, in considering a theology of creativity. It concerns what role we have in the creative process. There is a long tradition in western thought that credits the divine or the muse with inspiring our gestures to craft and make – and what this may mean is that these acts are not ultimately of our own doing – rather we serve merely as channels – and it is the breath/spirit of the muse, or of the divine that flows through us.
It is true that one need not understand the human role to be so passive but instead we might see the process as a “collaborative” effort that includes both a touch of “inspiration” and the gritty hard work of the artist. When considering the creative process one soon stumbles on the common practice of “waiting”.
The process of crafting a work, of bringing it into existence entails waiting. It may be a novel, a painting, a poem, a sonata or a film, the process requires you to wait and part of what you wait for is to discover what will emerge from the process. The work that is made is not simply subject to its maker but has a capacity to take on a “life of its own”. It allows those who experience it to discover something new and does the same for the one who made it. This is the work’s power to communicate. And it yields something new sometimes replacing the old, sometimes “redeeming” it. The season of Advent invites waiting and brings us to the threshold of something new.
To be clear I am not thinking of the New Year. Come January 1st we will be in 2015 – but this is a newness of a shallow sort. It creates the illusion that we are now able to start again – another day, another year but there is nothing transformative lodged in this temporal change. What I am suggesting is that the season of Advent is a time of creative impulse. It’s a call to re-imagine.
Our re-imagining may take the form of a reminder or it might be a discovery of what has not been known before. The more deeply we enter the story the greater the opportunity for a work of redemptive transformation to occur.
Poet Robert Frost wrote that poetry may be understood as “a momentary stay against confusion”. What we have come to call creativity seems to commonly play just such a role. The buzzing confusion of life in our contemporary world generates a longing for order, an opportunity to experience restoration of the soul beside still artistic waters.
There is no illusion here that art can deliver redemption – that’s the sole province of the “babe of Bethlehem” the one who is “full of grace and truth”. However art is able to provide hints of redemptive possibilities as it brings a salt and light presence to its particular cultural context.
The creative impulse continues to be made manifest though the biblical narrative. It’s a call to a “new creation” begun on a memorable Holy Night long ago. The momentum of that Holy Night continues to this day inviting us to newness of heart and soul and mind. Charles Wesley’s words come to mind:
Love divine, all loves excelling, Joy of heaven, to earth come down, fix in us thy humble dwelling; all thy faithful mercies crown.
What we celebrate in advent is the “crowning” gesture of God’s activities in history and it’s a gesture with the intent to create or perhaps better re-create. The final verse of Wesley’s hymn begins with a prayerful longing; “Finish then thy new creation”. That’s a work for which we must wait. But then the creative gesture is always attended by waiting – a waiting rooted in a confident hope of a transformative outcome – a discovery of the new.
I want to express my sincere thanks to all who have given their support to the work of Imago. Your interest, presence and financial investment are greatly appreciated and provide significant encouragement. The year past has been filled with blessing and much discovery, the year ahead holds great promise.