Hi all! I have to write a Torah commentary each week for a class I’m taking. I thought you might enjoy the one for this week about the creative process… No, it doesn’t have anything to do with Purim 😉
If God was a painter in 16th century Italy? Would God’s brush strokes have qualities in common with those of the Sistine Chapel?
If God were a 20th century poet in France, would God write something like,
Let me tell you of the pomegrante; of its juice,
sourish like the juice of green raspberries;
Its wax-like flower the color of fruit;
Its closely guarded treasure;
Its partitions in the hive;
Its abundance of flavor;
Its pentagonal architecture;
Its skin giving in;
Its grains bursting;
Grains of blood dripping into azure cupts;
Drops of gold falling into plates of enameled bronze….
If God were a composer during the Romantic era in Vienna, would God’s melodies sound like Brahms’ Lullabye or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy?
All of the artists who created these works I mention, speak of God not just as inspiration but as a guiding hand in their work.
Michelangelo said “Good painting is nothing else but a copy of the perfections of God and a reminder of His painting.”
André Gide said “Art is a collaboration between God and the artists, and the less the artist does the better.”
Johannes Brahms: “Straight away the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies, and orchestration.”
And Beethoven: “The vibrations on the air are the breath of God speaking to man’s soul. Music is the language of God.”
After singing last High Holy Days, someone asked me what it feels like to know I have “that instrument” inside of me, always at the ready to be taken out and used whenever I please. I told him I don’t really know. When I think about vocal technique or worry about what just happened or is about to happen, singing is difficult and laborious for me. I must fall back on all of my years of vocal training to carry me through those moments. However, when I am committed in prayer and singing is an outpouring of what is brewing in my heart and soul, I don’t think about technique, and I don’t have an opinion about how it sounds. I only feel it. Singing, but particularly singing Jewish liturgical music, puts me in a very, very deep meditative state. I don’t know what it’s like to have “that instrument” because if I think about it, it isn’t there in the same way. I have to NOT think about it, for the effortless flow to emerge. I have to trust.
In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to an artist who is to be guided by God’s hand. “I have called by name Betzaleil,” God says, “And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manners of workmanship, to devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manners of workmanship.” Betzaleil is to be the head artisan of the Tabernacle and is responsible for the Tent of Meeting, the ark, the cover, and all of the furniture, with skills, knowledge and directions implanted by God. No pressure. 🙂
Imagine setting off to begin a creative task while knowing that God is going to guide your ideas and movements. What would be different about your state of mind and actions? Would you worry about how it would come out? Would you stress if you needed to do something over again? Would you self edit, decide the work was no good and throw it away? Or would you relax into the creative process? Would you open your mind to allow God’s directions to flow through you? Would you follow every thought and note and brush stroke? Would you simply trust?
During those Holy Days I spoke of, I found myself often feeling as if I was being lifted up and out of my normal self. I felt very much protected, guided, and nurtured as I made my way around the bimah. My voice rang and bent and broke and phrased as it reacted to my spiritual state, but I hadn’t planned any of those bends or breaks or phrases. Was it God guiding my work? I honestly can’t answer. I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that it wasn’t my conscious mind doing all of the talking.
Have you ever had a moment when it seemed your creative juices were flowing with a directionality and a purpose that allowed you to notice the flow as an observer? Did it seem like your hands, your mind, or your voice were creating with little guidance from you? Do you think it’s possible God was speaking through your creativity?
Regardless of whether or not God was there, and regardless of whether or not we believe there is a God or if it’s possible for God to create through us, our responsibility to the moment is the same. For us to have the possibility of being a Michelangelo or Gide or Brahms or Beethoven or Betzaleil, we must get out of our own ways. We must listen to the voice within that nudges us in one direction and then another. We must not judge ourselves too quickly and honor the process. We must encourage our conscious, critical minds to take a short vacation. Only then, can our creative flows be effortless.
After all, that effortlessness may be the hand of God.