Creation: Chapter 5

The Springs of Human Creativity

The human is certainly a phenomenon on its own. It shares a bodily configuration with its mammalian relatives and is firmly grounded in mortality, and yet its aspirations reach to the heavens. We have already considered the possibility of an immaterial soul entering a human body with its crowning glory, a brain of enormous intricacy whose subtlety of action far outdistances anything that even its near primate cousins can muster. But even if we take the more usual view of the human mind at birth as having no innate ideas, a so-called tabula rasa (erased tablet), it soon acquires a wealth of information that is moulded into opinions both inherited from the person's teachers and imbibed from the local environment. In due course it asserts its power of private judgement. Some of what it learned or took secondhand as truth is found to be inconsistent with its own experience. To be human means to be confronted ceaselessly with a conscience that finds its peace only when it obeys the highest value judgements of authenticity and integrity. Every subterfuge may be taken to avoid or shelve moral responsibility, but until the truth is faced, the person is a living lie unable to confront himself in clear daylight. This inner seat of personal integrity, of moral authority, is called the soul. We remember Jesus' terrible question in the last chapter, "What does a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?" This true self is the soul, and it cannot be disregarded for long without a disastrous deterioration in character ensuing. The person reverts to his animal ancestry while retaining the mighty intelligence of the mind ensconced in its impressive palace, the human brain.

The relationship between mind and brain remains a philosophical conundrum. It is certain that there is an intimate connexion between the two during earthly life: severe brain damage can lead to dementia of such an order that a once intelligent person becomes little more than a human vegetable. There is no communication with even closest relatives and dearest friends. It could be that a deeper intelligence remains intact, but such awareness cannot work through the damaged brain and make itself known to the outside world. In the near-death experience that is being reported with increasing frequency, it would appear as if the mind can detach itself from a severely disordered brain, and mediate a consciousness of other-worldly brilliance and assurance, but the mechanism of this phenomenon is still under review. It is certain that those who have had such an experience return to mortal life changed people; death ceases to hold any terror for them, while the remainder of their earthly life is invested with a significance of a very different order from the interests and pursuits that had previously attracted them. It may well be that the brain focuses the mind's diverse processes, acting as a channel by which thought touches the world of form in which we are to achieve our aims; pressing on then to fresh endeavours.

Towards the end of the creation story we read, "So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). What then is this image of God in which humanity is moulded? Since no one has ever seen God, and indeed his presence is surrounded by a radiance that blinds mortal sight by its sheer intensity, there can be no physical likeness of God in our world. "What likeness will you find for God or what form to resemble his?" asks Isaiah (40:18). In 42:8 we read, "I am the Lord; the Lord is my name; I will not give my glory to another god, nor my praise to any idol." And yet God has imparted some of his glory to humanity, fully manifest, at least in Christian eyes, in the person of the Lord Jesus. This glory is an intuitive appreciation of the divine presence which serves not merely to know God but also to transfigure the person. We know God most perfectly when we resemble him most closely in our attitude to the world and the service that pours out in burning love for all that exists. It is thus that we may fathom the statement that we are created in the divine image. The function of the soul that knows God in deep relationship is called the spirit; according to its development the soul can receive the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, by virtue of its own spirit, which can, using a spatial metaphor, be defined as the deepest, yet most exalted, point of the soul. Alternatively it may be that the Holy Spirit lies immanent in the human soul in its spirit, but that he has to be born as a conscious presence before the person can know God and do the work of love that lies before him.

It is this work that God has destined for us, and we will never know complete rest until we have actualized our identity as creatures formed in the divine image by carrying out that work. The action of the soul is the will, and its freedom will determine how and when we perform the task set before us. God himself is powerless to command us by virtue of his prior gift of free will. And so we are in very fact gods in our own right, as Psalm 82:6 asserts. But the sentence proceeds with the warning that we shall die as frail humans, even as princes fall, so long as our attitude to our neighbours is unsatisfactory. A god in this context is a being with independent will, an autonomous creature. But it is a lamentable fact that until the individual will is aligned to the divine purpose that looks for the healing of all that is disturbed and awry, whatever is attempted by the creature will go wrong.

God creates out of unbounded love, and while he gives his creatures free rein to work out their own pattern of life, he is never far from them in his over-flowing love: "As a father has compassion on his children, so has the Lord compassion on all who fear him" (Psalm 103:13). This fear is not that of a slave to his master, but a sense of awe at the marvel of life and the privilege we all share in inhabiting the world. St Paul in Romans 8:14-15 puts it thus: "For all who are moved by the Spirit of God are sons of God. The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery leading you back into a life of fear, but a Spirit that makes us sons, enabling us to cry 'Abba! Father!'" When we recall Jesus' exclamation of these same words at the peak of his trial at Gethsemane, we can see the height of the destiny set for us who are his co-heirs. For this is the end of human creation, and its price is severe in the suffering it entails.

The free will of the rational creature shows itself in his capacity to alter the environment according to his own choice. This ability to change the existing order is the essence of creativity. In this respect we should remember that the universe itself is in a state of constant creation. The "big bang" of 15,000 million years ago began the process of creation, but the universe has not stood still from then. Its inherent instability is the source of intramundane calamities like earthquakes and hurricanes, but the fecundity of living forms even in our small planet stresses its creative potential also. Jesus said, "My Father has never yet ceased his work, and I am working too" (John 5:17). This statement infuriated his audience because, by calling God his own Father, he was claiming equality with God. And yet the purpose and also the privilege of the human is to do exactly what Jesus claimed, to assist the Creator in the world's maintenance and its expansion into new creative channels. However, only when the human attains something of a Christ-like stature will he be able to play his part with mature responsibility. Until then he is more likely to act irresponsibly and put the creation in jeopardy.

An act of creativity shared by all living organisms is the process of giving birth. So fundamental an event is it that the will can scarcely be included in its action, at least in respect of the less rationally endowed humbler forms of life. It is only the mammals that accommodate their fertilized ovum within themselves, carrying the embryo until it is sufficiently viable to be born into an indifferent world. The woman especially can exult in the gestation of a new individual within her own body until the time of painful, yet glorious, release at its birth into independent existence. Thus is a woman fulfilled of her special creative function, the profundity of which the attendant man can never fathom. He, by contrast, lives more easily in the world of the mind and spirit as he schemes to change the material universe.

We recall with sympathy Eve's exultant cry when she had lain with Adam and given birth to Cain, "With the help of the Lord I have brought a man into being" (Genesis 4:1); the accompanying pains of labour decreed by God as a punishment for the disobedient woman (Genesis 3:16) pale into insignificance when the fruit of procreation is tasted, one that is later to kill his gentle, inoffensive brother Abel. Jesus, in John 16:21, compares the passing anguish of the parturient woman with the immediate state of sorrow that will follow his crucifixion, soon to be followed by the triumphant resurrection. Here there will be no repudiation of past associations, only a restoration of friendship with an intimacy of a warmer radiance than the disciples had known during their earthly work with their Master.

The act of procreation is the prototype of all other human creative ventures. Its impetus lies outside the compass of the person's will, for it is a pure gift of God (or the natural order, for the intransigent agnostic). Nevertheless, the full co-operation of the individual is essential if the divine grace is to make its impact on the person's awareness. Only then is a creative process initiated, and the strain brought about by the sheer labour and emotional tension accompanying the work, whether of art or science, is comparable in its own proportions to the pain of a woman giving birth to her child. When we think about the cavalier way in which humans treat pro-creation, we can only wonder at the generosity of the Creator and the careless abandon of his creatures.

Creativity is indeed at the very heart of human existence. The human, like his Creator, is unceasingly involved, while his health is intact, in pursuing fresh lines of thought and starting new ventures that give him more effective control over his environment. It is the intellectual faculty of imagination that sets the creative impulse on fire, but the imagination itself is informed by an inspiration that impinges on the mind from a source beyond its compass. That source cannot be provoked into action, being in fact the Holy Spirit which, like the wind, blows where it will and is not subject to human manipulation. Indeed, the more it is invoked, the more likely it is to withdraw, as it were drying up. No fresh input will enter the mind until the person becomes fully receptive. This entails a condition of absolute humility in which the ego lies low in obedient service and not its customary selfish domination. This state of humility involves a full dedication of the person to the ultimate values of truth, beauty and love; which of these takes precedence depends on the nature of the creative work, whether scientific, artistic or philanthropic. But in the end all three are one inasmuch as each leads to the original source and ultimate end, whose name is God.

Once the imagination is activated, the will is mobilized into putting the inspiration from mere thought into action. At first, the idea that appeals to the person has a selfish quality and is concerned with what appears to be the individual's immediate benefit and that of those closest to him in blood ties or emotional sympathy. At this stage the human is like a growing child, entranced by the power so lavishly bestowed upon him: he can create and destroy as visions of dominating his little world flood into his alert, receptive mind. Experience teaches him that without love of other people, private schemes fail in their purpose. Thought is certainly the antecedent and stimulus of effective action. Its creative potential is immense, but it is usually dissipated in ever-diminishing circles of ineffectual speculation. This is a consequence of our usual state of inattention to the present moment as our minds roam disconsolately over the past which cannot be changed, while the menace of the future often directs us into imaginary confrontations with adversaries and circumstances that exist primarily, if not entirely, in our own minds. Well does Jesus remind us that however much we may worry about things, we cannot alter the course of nature thereby; anxious thought cannot add an inch to our height. The tendency to meet troubles half way, by imagining what might happen if a certain course of events were to ensue, actually stifles the higher imaginative faculty, because the dark cloud of anguish blocks the entry of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Pascal remarked that the human is merely a reed, the weakest thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. He might well have gone on to observe that thought is both the midwife of the new dispensation and the spouse of suicide. We do not think properly when we are in turmoil within. By contrast, fruitful thought occurs when we are completely aware of the present moment. Then the mind is fully conscious of the void, the very emptiness of God in which creation finds its place of operation. This is, in fact, the state of pure contemplation: the mind is alert and actively receptive, waiting in undivided attention for the divine presence to inform it. This it does by showing it a higher purpose and revealing a deeper meaning to the present events. This divine presence is the Holy Spirit himself, but he can make himself known only when the person is quiet and of untroubled mind. Then the door of the soul is open so that the Spirit of God can enter unimpeded.

Of course, it could be argued that this rather awesome process of creative imagining belongs to the realm of genius and sanctity rather than the world of everyday activity. While the peaks of contemplative inspiration are indeed attained by exceptional individuals, the less exalted moments of creative illumination that come to us all when we are living in an ordinary way also tend to be preceded by a silence born of acknowledged ignorance. When the mind is at the end of its tether and can find no other place of help, God may be able to make his presence felt, and then a solution may suddenly lighten up the seemingly impenetrable darkness. This does not mean that the Deity suddenly appears to provide a magical answer to our problems; he sets in motion a harmonious collaboration between inspiration and thought, between emotion and reason, and then a previously insoluble problem is easily confronted and clarified.

A fine example of this principle is the silence that Job and his companions attain in the face of the enigma of undeserved suffering that finds no rational answer. At this point God shows himself directly to Job. The revelation impresses on Job the impotence of human reason, in respect of divine purpose, and a new understanding of reality dawns on him: the creative process is so vast that the aches and pains of any one creature are an inevitable part of the working-out of God's love that will not interfere with the freedom of action he has given all living forms, and especially the human with his uniquely powerful mind. Nevertheless, God waits patiently for the creature to fulfil its own destiny of perfection, and he will never fail to respond with help once this is requested. As we have already noted, divine assistance strengthens the faculties of the mind, so that we, in co-operation with the Creator, can solve our personal problems and serve the whole creation in selfless devotion. A real love helps the beloved grow into maturity through a progressive mastery of the impinging challenge. If the challenge were simply to be removed, the beloved would remain as weak and ineffectual as before. The secret of creativity is contained in this confrontation and our gradual victory over it.

It therefore comes about that human creativity has two components. First, there is receptivity to a power beyond our rational grasp, one that pours down the inspiration of God into our clear consciousness, and second, a lucid thinking process whereby the inspiration is brought down to earth so as to become the source of a plan of action. This action may be a simple planning of a day's activity or a projected holiday excursion, or it may be a complex philosophical investigation or a detailed research scheme. How the person uses what has been given from on high depends on his own state of spiritual awareness. We remember Jesus' remark that God makes his sun rise on good and bad alike, and sends his rain on the honest and dishonest (Matthew 5:45). The good and the honest will use these divine gifts profitably, whereas the evil-doer will either squander them or else use their produce for destructive purposes. It cannot be denied that some human skill has had a destructive effect on the environment, as much through ignorance as malice.

Human creativity depends also on such secondary factors as diligence of study, perseverance and humility. This last can be defined as a state of inner silence in which the person can learn from the circumstances around him, especially the failures that mar his path and the little people who are generally disregarded, but whose native wisdom may contain an element of truth denied even the experts in the field. Jesus undoubtedly taught wisdom to all who had the foresight to hear him, but we may be sure he also learned much about human nature from the many people he met in his daily ministry. All effective dialogue has a creative potential, and frank, open relationships, such as Jesus initiated in his mixing with all strata of the local society especially at their humble festivities, are of great importance in widening the creative potential of any inspired individual.

In the fascinating story of the Tower of Babel we see the end of human creativity in a selfish context. God is eclipsed by the urgency of human desire; though the provider of all things, he, as in the story of Adam and Eve, is unceremoniously ignored in the human thrust for ultimate power. We need not take God's concern lest he be outshone by his creatures too seriously; a more realistic exegesis is the inevitable discord that results from people taking the sacred gift of inspiration into their own hands without reference to their Creator. Human institutions will always fail as personalities clash; only the divine love can make the institution secure. This indeed is the meaning of the Church, and it has miraculously stayed firm despite the constant attack of the powers of death (Matthew 16:18). These powers, the same in essence as those that led the builders of the Tower of Babel, are demonic in origin, but use covetous humans for their execution. The Christian Church, unlike its secular counterpart, though frequently rocked by dissension and torn apart by schism, has never lost its common language, so powerful is the love of Christ among his dissident flock. By contrast, the secular city, typified by the Tower of Babel, dissolves into internecine strife as the human will becomes dominant and each person seeks his own satisfaction without reference to the others. The common language is lost as love departs and each member retreats into his own fastness. The end, ironically, is disintegrative war and not the splendid Tower of Babel set to eclipse the small creations of God.

When we consider the amazingly emergent creativity of the human in our own century, the force of its destructive potential seems far to have outweighed any constructive endeavour, which, indeed, has often been incinerated in the furnaces of hatred that lie just below the juvenile mind set on conquering the world. But even in this darkness a greater light is gradually dawning, as the human is learning about the responsibility to the natural order that underlies the privilege of his enormous mental capacity. It is evident that there are different grades of creativity, from the artful deception of the criminal to the well-pondered schemes of the philanthropist, from the destructive genius of the Nazis in their erection of the vile gas chambers to the painful, selfless dedication of the medical research worker engaged in his constant encounter with disease and his endeavours to overcome those afflictions that remain incurable at the present time. A composer creates a new piece of music, which may then be created anew by an inspired interpreter acting either as soloist or orchestral conductor. The declaration in Revelation 21:5 is eternally valid, "Behold. I am making all things new." This is the emergent creation of the universe that will find its summation when everything is lifted up to its creator, resurrected from the thraldom of matter to the liberty of pure spirit, as the body of Christ changed from the inertia of dead matter to the vibrancy of transformed spirit.

The human has indeed been made in the image of God. By his brilliant intellect he can trace the ways of the process of evolution, entering into the sheer grandeur of the mind of the Creator, who both fashions creatures out of nothing and allows them to proceed with their own lives in complete freedom. By his spirit the human is privileged to enter into a relationship of great intimacy with the Creator so that he can come to resemble him as closely as befits a mere creature at the heavenly table. The essence of the human dilemma is the alignment of mind and spirit, of body and soul. Until creation is a truly spiritual event it is destined to crumble into chaos, but once it is spiritually directed, it has the power to change the whole universe into something of the nature of God, seen as Jesus Christ in Christian terms. No other creature, at least within our world, has this power, hence the special place prepared for the human in the pageant of life. Jesus reminds us that, cheap as they are, sparrows may not fall to the ground without our Father's leave (since they too are under the law of life and death, of purposive action and gravity). And even the hairs of our head have all been counted, for there are a finite, though vast, number of hair follicles in the scalp, as amazing a fact in its compact brevity as the magnitude of the universe is in its complexity. Above all, we need have no fear, for we are worth more than any number of sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).

Chapter 6
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