Creativity and the Sublime Joys of Playing God

“Oh senseless, man, who cannot possibly make a worm or a flea and yet will create God by the dozens.” The quote is from the French philosopher and wit Voltaire, poking fun at the universal human penchant to gaze up at the heavens and conjure some supreme creator who waved its hand a few times (because, like us, it has hands) and made everything there is.

Voltaire was right, of course: We are not (yet) God enough to create a worm. (We should note, though, that worms are infinitely more complex than we might think at first glance. Come to think of it, pretty much everything is more complex than we tend to think or tweet self-righteously about at first glance.)

But oh, can our human imagination take us places! It’s one of our more useful, charming, alternately troublesome and transcendent qualities, actually.

Seven more days then unfold almost exactly like the first two, and in nine days I have watched the moon wax to majestic fullness and then wane, listened intently to a million crickets, and completed the first draft of my master’s thesis…

For all the times humankind uses it to conjure a god that uncannily seems to feel the same way we do about how other people should behave, our imaginations also serve as a gateway to the bliss and beauty of creativity, loosed from its chains and free to roam the earth and the heavens as food for its unfettered expression.

In creativity, we are Masters of Our Universe, creating something out of nothing, filling the void in front of us with poems and paintings, cabinets and gardens, songs and symphonies, theorems, quilts, and ceramic bowls. And it is good because it is filled with purpose, ardor, meaning, commitment and love—among the most important attributes we always ascribe to God.


Come travel back with me now to the summer of 1979. I am at the end of my master’s program in psychology and spirituality. It is all done now but for my thesis, which is grandly titled, “The Concept of Surrender: A Psychospiritual View.” I’m examining this idea of surrender to God or ultimate reality as it is understood in Christianity, Buddhism and psychotherapy.

It’s heady stuff, in which I have been immersed for a good two years. And I haven’t written a word.

But now it is mid-June, and the day has come. It is early morning. I sit down in the basement of the college dorm where I’m the director, which has helped pay my tuition.

All the kids are gone on summer break. The entire building is mine as I spread a box of books and approximately a half-ton of writing paper and pens around me.

Personal computer? Not invented yet.

And oh my God, could I have used Google back then!

Anyway: I begin to think and scrawl on yellow legal pads. Some 12 hours later, I lift my head, look around, take a breath, and say to myself, “Wow! That was fun!”

That night, I take a walk, noting the crickets and beholding the waxing moon. It is good to be alive.

Next day, same drill. Except I go 14 hours this time, 7 a.m. till 9 at night, taking only bathroom breaks and a few minutes to grab a bite, which I bring down to eat alongside my books and paper. I take another walk at nite, noting the crickets and beholding the moon.

I also note with serenity-spilling-into-joy that the moon is bigger and life seems even better and more intense than it was the day before.

Seven more days then unfold almost exactly like the first two, and in nine days I have watched the moon wax to majestic fullness and then wane, listened intently to a million crickets, and completed the first draft of my master’s thesis of some 80 pages that I had figured would easily take me into the fall.

Praise God!


And here’s the thing: I experience a kind of ecstasy the entire time, riding a cloud of joy with no assist from chemicals, fermented beverages or another human being.

Oh, the sweet, full-body immersion of being Lord and Creator, the self-sufficient Master of My Domain!

If it felt anything like this for God when she took a reported seven days to create the entire universe (two fewer than I spent on a mere thesis, amazingly enough!), then I can well understand her sense of elation and tender loving care for what she has wrought.

This universe, this thesis, this painting, this score, this play, this website design, this teaching lesson, this perfectly seasoned Moroccan chicken abutting a vase of flowers—works of Art with a capital “A,” every one of them.

Precious parts of the Creation.

We bring to them our imagination, our vision, our learning, our questionings, our practice, our experience, our intention—and the full force of our hearts.

In the creative act, whatever its form, we feel, because we are, whole.

And, when we are done, we echo the words of another creation story, goes by the name of Genesis: “We saw everything that we have made, and, behold, it was very good.”


And on the animal side of the ledger…


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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Man under the heavens by Greg Rakozy, Salt Lake City, Utah

Color wavelet by Mary Calvo, Italy

Photo of Alberto Giacometti self-portrait, exhibited in Musee Zürich, by Jean Louis Mazieres, Paris, France

5 comments to Creativity and the Sublime Joys of Playing God

  • Marianne Sonntag  says:

    Oh Andrew, what a glorious piece on our part in Creation! I haven’t ever figured out how atheists reconcile this gift, this ability to co-create on this plane, in the time given. They may explain it away as coincidental as ants and bees, busy at their creative endeavors, being driven merely by instinct. Well, yes,…but I think for us, beyond instinct is choice to act, and our “spirit” gets wrapped up in the momentum of creating something new, swept along to completion. Biographies of many of our great artists across all fields often reveal how singular of purpose and driven they were. No matter how mentally challenging or physically strenuous the work, feeling joy is the reward in choosing to create. You remind me of that joy, and I am heartily inspired to revisit my own avenues of creativity.
    The young voices singing about Imagination, a creative riff, succeeds at gifting joy to listeners, and their joy in the performance is obvious. Does the cockatoo know his rocking out creates a moment of mirth? You will have to ask him. He’s having a good time, and spreading the joy is the creative intent of the videographer.
    We surely need more joy, and you share how to rediscover our joy. Choose to act, to create from Imagination and Spirit.
    Thank you, thank you!

  • Robby Miller  says:

    Andrew: I read your column and, behold, it was very good.

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Delightful post Andrew. Synchronicity! A lovely extended BS session at our coffee store this morning wandering around topics of art, inspiration, losing oneself in the present moment, etc… had to laugh recalling my own goofy sprint to the dissertation finish line after 7 years of taking 1-2 classes per semester (working full time, adopting 2 kids etc.) and facing the reality of ABD (all but dissertation!) . My inspiration came in the form of my wife taking the kids to her sisters in SoCal for Spring Break while I wrote like crazy, and made trips to USF every other day getting feedback from my thesis advisor (who had called my wife a few weeks earlier to hatch this plan to “get er done”).

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    The entire process of creating something of your own, whether good or bad, is cathartic. I loved writing a nearly 300-page baseball themed serial killer novel. It was neither good nor commercially viable; it was fun. I’ve written essays and poems, too. All done without a single capitalistic thought. I cut up some old pieces of wood into 3” squares and turned them into 100 famous painting coasters, far too many for my own consumption. Again, not a commercial venture but merely a time-consuming project which I enjoyed. Van Gogh was into art for a little more than a decade and produced 900 paintings and some 1000 sketches or drawings and sold just a few. It took Rudolfo Anaya six years to write “Bless Me Ultima” and another two years to find anyone who wanted to publish it. What kept them going? The love of creating something of their own. It’s that simple.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Thanks, Marianne; it is indeed that “spirit” of being absorbed completely in a work, whether it’s writing a poem or making a cabinet (or even writing a strategic plan!), that brings us about as close as we’ll ever get to whatever God and divinity are. Even when the work itself is not inherently glamorous or impactful, losing oneself in that “singularity of purpose” you mention answers something that lies very deep within us. And that need not be a rare event, is what I am increasingly starting to feel.

    Robby, you made me laugh. That is “very good” too…

    Kevin, you deserve some kinda medal for having the audacity (and endurance!) to pursue a doctorate under those conditions. It might even inspire me—if I were about a quarter century younger!

    And Robert, you make the case for me and everyone here to “just do it”—whatever that “it” is—without concern for fame, fortune or anything else save the sheer pleasure to be found in the doing. You’ve got exactly the right approach, long may it flourish! And just today I espied that Willie Mays “The Catch” coaster on the table in my office—glad you “did” it, and glad Willie made the catch that inspired you.

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