“[Beginning] God created heaven and earth….” Genesis 1:1
Growing up I spent every summer with my maternal grandparents. I cherished that time to build intimate, meaningful, complex relationships with them. It wasn’t always easy to be a child in a senior household. One summer my parents surprised me with a pottery wheel and a large brick of clay, perhaps as a deterrent against bending more nails in my grandfather’s workshop, but certainly to help me pass the time. While I never mastered the art of throwing pots, I did learn the rudiments of sculpting.
I am a classically trained pianist and published author; visual arts have never been my milieu. But sometimes I get the urge to create a physical, tactile representation of my feelings, and I turn either to acrylic painting or sculpting. I enjoy the mess of clay. I’m a Virgo and I love having my hands in and on the earth; feeling it swell, adhere, collapse, and form between my palms, under my fingertips. I love watching the clay become what I am feeling. I enjoy its malleability, that it will hold a shape as well as rock and yet abandon all shape without guidance.
Recently I’ve begun a series of sculptures, more than one of which involves the human form. As I sculpted a woman, I found myself contemplating Bereishit, the Creation. Sculpting a person (adam) out of clay (adama). How about that.
The First Day: Light
“When God began to create heaven and earth – the earth being unformed and void….”
Before I create a sculpture, I have an idea: a feeling, statement, or object in mind that I wish to convey. The sculpture is unformed, void. It isn’t a thing yet. It can’t BE until I fully understand what it is I wish to accomplish. When I can close my eyes and see every detail of the sculpture in my head, then and only then do I unwrap a brick of clay.
A member of my writing group who happens to be an atheist read a brilliant short story at one of our meetings about God trying to interest venture capitalists in His plans to create Earth. He had the blueprints (I believe He may have even had a working model), but He lacked business acumen. The investors were concerned that this plan would fail as worlds before had.
As amusing as the story was, I only have to see one leaf, one insect, one athlete to know that God had – and has – a complete, delicate, exacting plan prior to Creation. Everything that could be was conceived…and then God spoke.
The Second Day: Sky
“God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.”
I begin with a lump of clay. Actually, I begin with a brick of clay, which I must warm in my hands until it becomes workable. If I’m using pure dirt I have to add water, keeping the entire lump evenly moist throughout the sculpting process. If any part of the sculpture becomes dry it will crack and weaken the work. If I am using a polymer clay, I try to keep all parts about the same temperature so cracks do not develop.
Regardless, at some point the lump has to become…something else. I begin to feel the clay’s particular balance, which parts will stretch easily, where the base ought to be. And then I pull. The clay begins to expand. Without form – length, breadth, depth – without space, without leaving itself, the clay cannot be what I intend it to be.
The same principle holds for a child leaving its parents, for weighing an important decision, and, later in Bereishit, for Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. We can’t appreciate the forest when we’re sitting in a tree, or the sound of music without the silence of rests. There is harmony in an expanse of separation.
The Third Day: Earth and Seas
“God said, “Let the water below the sky be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.” And it was so.”
God didn’t force the land to appear. God gathered the water into one area so the land could reveal itself. As I began to draw my intended design out of the clay, it balanced differently than I had intended. The actual sculpture is a mirror image of what I had in my mind because that’s the way the clay was weighted. Creation is not forceful. It was and is directing natural forces to come together in beautiful manifestations of a grander design. Note that throughout the Creation process, God never says, “that’s…passable, that’s…mediocre, that’s…awful, let’s start again.” God consistently surveys the happenings and seals them as “good”.
The Fourth Day: Sun and Moon and Stars
“God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate day from night….” God made the two great lights, the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars.”
I knew how I wanted the sculpture to sit, and what I wanted it to express. I began to draw the limbs out one by one. At first they were crude blobs; then I refined them, working muscles into each limb: bones into the ankles, knees, and elbows, thumbs on each hand. Under my warm touch the clay grew shiny and smooth. The little terra cotta woman began to mimic any inert person’s physiology. I straightened her leg, it contracted. I bent it, she kicked it back out. I found myself asking her to hold still! I worked a long time on her feet, trying to get them to match. One arch was a little higher than the other, one set of toes slightly longer. And her left shin wasn’t as flat as it ought to be. A little scrape, another little indentation to make the ankle bone pop out. Creasing a blob of clay from the thigh around to the glutes, both to give the correct shape and weight it securely. Every movement helped the sculpture become.
God knows how many lights there are in the heavens. While some may be bigger than others, all are important. Every light was put there, by day or by night, so we could appreciate light and darkness. But God did not stop at light versus darkness. We enjoy subtle nuances in color and hue, translucence, shadow, prisms. Think of all the words we have to describe the sky, the changing light through the phases of the moon. It wasn’t an accident; it is a gift.
Day Five and Six: Living Creatures
“God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth across the expanse of sky.” God created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind the creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind…. God blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase, fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.
God said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature….” God made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth…. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
I gave my little clay woman cheekbones, eyes, and a nose. I brought her forth from an inert lump of earth. At the end of my first day creating her I placed her on a plastic bag to prevent dust from drying her out and wrapped it in a towel, somewhat lovingly I think, since she was a physical manifestation of an ethereal idea I conceived. I saw that she was good. Not sixth day of creation very good, but good enough.
Creating her made me thankful for Elohai, my Creator. I am thankful that God didn’t stop at “pretty good” or “good enough”. Thankful that God played around with all my parts to make sure they were fully articulated, that the Creator determined the graceful proportions of all beings, the complex workings that keep us functioning, the variety of life on Earth. I am unutterably grateful for the mystifying instincts, camouflage, and kinetic gifts every one of God’s creations has, for the yearning for life we share, for the desire to be a little better as we pursue our purpose, be it tikkun olam or nest building, making minyan or migrating, etc. I am overwhelmed that God gave me – and each one of you – the edict to fill the earth and master it. That is very good indeed.
“The Lord God formed man from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being…. And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food…. And the Lord God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky….”
From dust we are created. To dust we shall return. All we are is dust in the wind. And in the meantime, from dust we create, for the glory of our Creator and the expression of the Divine that is within us. I challenge you to find a way to connect your adam with adama this week. Garden, walk barefoot, repot a house plant, sculpt. And be thankful for your design.