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Creativity: created in the image of God

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In the history of ideas, creativity as a notion of human innovation is a fairly recent emphasis. In the western Judeo-Christian epoch, creation began with the Bible describing the introduction to the world that we inhabit, with humans made in the image of the Divine. However, the word “create,” while featured in the King James Version is not mentioned as so in the original Hebrew. Surely as any Sunday school child knows, Genesis 1:1 reads: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” So reads the "Authorized Version" the Cambridge Edition, as it came to be known. In the earlier Hebrew version now transliterated reads Beraysheet, barah Elohim; et hashahmayim v’et ha-aretz,” which according to Rabbi Everett Fox’s translation is translated as “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth. . . “

According to him the phrase “Beraysheet” has “long been the focus of debate among grammarians.” Rabbi Daniel Matt, in his Pritzker translation of the Zohar offers this instead: “With beginning, ______________ created God.” In Hebrew the consonant “b,” which is a preposition, can mean “in” or “with.” So the Zohar translates the words as they appear grammatically and precisely, so that if a noun follows a verb, which is “barah,” meaning create, then it is the object of that verb.

Hence, there is a hidden subject with creates, and that is the “mystical Assembly of Israel,” according to Matt. And that is called “Shechina” the mystical feminine side of the Divine which indeed does hover, as Genesis 1:2 describes in Rabbi Fox’s translation: “when the earth was wild and waste, darkness over the face of the Ocean, rushing-spirit of God Hovering over the face of the waters –“

It is noteworthy here that “Elohim,” is plural, which opens up a multitude of interpretations, antithetical to the idea of the unity of the Divine. If humans are created in the image of “Elohim” then indeed, the many variations of humankind are made legitimate here.

So the strict translation God in Genesis speaks, sees, calls, separates, and makes stuff, but doesn’t create; God is created in the plural.

Throughout time with the clerical dominance over ideas, it became sacrilegious to say that humans create, because creation happened once, and if there is to be anything new, it was created by a divinity not by people. Artists could be punished for suggesting such a thing; they could only “imitate.”

It wasn’t until the democratic 20th century returned to recognizing that men and women are capable of creating anything. In fact, the idea is perpetuated in the many advice books overflowing the psychology section of bookstores today. It seems that folks have to be convinced that they can actually make anything new happen. The idea of resurrecting one’s creativity is now present in the news, in corporate America, in the reading groups of libraries and other institutions, and most certainly in stores, where the “new look” or the newest technological gadget wins a large market share of the consumer public.

Before that, people made things and did things. Historically the Hebrew word “oseh” means to make, and creating didn’t get as much press as it gets today. The ancient Greeks uses the word “poiein” which means to make. Up until this, pedestrian verbs described creations. The Romans, however, sought to improve on this and did have a word for creating, “creatio.” Herein is the root of the word that we now use in the heart of creativity.

A Polish historian named Wladystow Tatarkiewicz raised another idea: The Christian period introduced the idea of “creation from nothing” and the Latin word facere (a translation of the Hebrew “oseh”) only applied to the work of the Creator (the Capital “C” god).

The Renaissance birthed the idea that artists were the second creators of phenomenon. Baltasar Gracian (1601 – 1658) claimed this role as an artist.

Is this more hubris and ego or is it true? The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century enlarged on this and found the source of creativity in the imagination. By the 19th century creativity was only associated with the arts, leaving the poor peons struggling with their own survival at the side of the road.

A Polish historian named Wladystow Tatarkiewicz raised another idea: The Christian period introduced the idea of “creation from nothing” and the Latin word facere (a translation of the Hebrew “oseh”) only applied to the work of the Creator.

The Renaissance birthed the idea that artists were the second creators of phenomenon. Baltasar Gracian (1601 – 1658) claimed this role as an artist.

Is this more hubris and ego or is it true? The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century enlarged on this and found the source of creativity in the imagination. By the 19th century creativity was only associated with the arts, leaving the poor peons struggling with their own survival at the side of the road.

This popularly accepted notion, that creativity could only be associated with innovation, is still believed today. It has been Ezra Pound, a 20th century poet, was known for his dictum: “Make it new!” This contributed to the current notion, which is widely believed. It has been applied to all disciplines from science to business.
But can it be applied to daily life?

In the 20th century creativity research began in earnest with Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who was once in a DP camp at age 10. He found relief in daily chess games and after immigrating to America at 22, dedicated himself to researching the creative state of being. For purposes of scientific measurement, he studied numerous creative individuals who were recognized for making a difference in their field. He called their creativity one with a capital “C, ” and other forms of creativity one with a lower case “c:” Picasso’s Guernica is Creativity with an upper case “C,” and women’s improvised cooking is creativity with a lower case “c.”

He concluded that the state of creativity, which he called “Flow,” was characterized by certain characteristics, which are:

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. Merging of action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Those aspects can appear independently of each other, but only in combination do they constitute a so-called flow experience.

Which leads to a rather wild speculation on the part of this writer: Somehow this sounds like a description of a devout person in a state of what the rabbis call “Bittul ha-Nefesh.” This is a state of nullification of the ego, where one is entirely in unity with Divinity. Many devotees have described this experience in prayer, in study, and even when falling in love.

Perhaps engaging in the state of Flow is, after all, a way to acting in the image of God.

Perhaps.

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