The Art of Renewal: Creative Prompts for Elul 5780/2020

INTRODUCTION:

According to the Hasidic master Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, teshuva - the foundational practice of the High Holy Day season - is a creative process (Machzor Lev Shalem). More than a simple return to what has been, he writes, teshuva is a process for creating ourselves anew. How do you understand this conceptualization of teshuva? What mindsets, skills, and tools can you imagine utilizing in creating yourself anew?

We’ve designed a simple, accessible, creative exercise for each week of the month of Elul, using art making to meaningfully connect to teshuva as a creative process. You can use these prompts whenever you’re ready—before, during or after the holiday. The themes transcend the specific holiday and the creative process is an endlessly vital force. We hope that the prompts below offer support and insight as you prepare for the High Holy Days.

Shanah Tovah, may it be a year of healing, connection and creativity!

WEEK 1: BEGINNER'S MIND

Framing: Often read as “in the beginning” or “as God began,” we might also understand בראשית “beresheit” as “with beginner’s mind.” The first words of the Torah could then be read as: “With a beginner’s mind God created the world” (this interpretation was first shared with Rabbi Adina Allen by Rabbi Benay Lappe). To approach something with a beginner’s mind is to revisit something we consider “known” (to us) and set our expectations and preconceived ideas aside in order to rediscover it anew, just like a beginner. Just as God starts from beginner’s mind to form the world anew, so too can we - humans made in the Divine image - embrace this mindset of openness and curiosity as we seek to renew ourselves, our relationships, and our society through our teshuva process.

Materials:

  • Timer
  • 1/4 sheet of paper
  • Any kind of drawing, sketching, or painting supplies

Art Prompt:

  • Set a timer for 7 minutes
  • Make an intention to bring beginner's mind to this
  • Create circles on the page in any way that pleases you
  • Continue for the full amount of time

Reflection Questions:

  • What was it like to engage in this simple, repetitive task? Were you curious? Playful? Bored? Impatient? Calm? What feelings arose as you created circles? Did those feelings change?
  • How did the time limit affect your experience?
  • How might the concept of beginner’s mind be helpful as you move through this month of reflection, renewal and reconciliation?

WEEK 2: TURN IT AND TURN IT

Framing: “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it,” teaches the Mishnah (Pirke Avot 5:22). Written in regards to our relationship to Torah, this verse teaches that we are meant to be continually shifting our vantage point, seeing the text from new angles, allowing our perspective to change. What if we saw Torah both as the text on the page and the text of our lives? This instruction to “turn it and turn it” can be broadened as an invitation for how we might approach people we interact with, media we consume, and even how we see ourselves. Just as Torah is complex and many-layered, each one of us contain multitudes. During this month of teshuva, how might your life, work, identity and relationships change if you “turn” what is before you to view it from a new perspective?

Materials:

  • Timer
  • 1 sheet of paper
  • Any kind of drawing, sketching or painting supplies

Art Prompt:

  • Set a timer for 1 minute
  • Begin by making marks on the page in any way that is pleasing to you
  • Turn the page 1/4 of the way around when the timer goes off and continue creating
  • Repeat on all 4 sides.

Reflection Questions:

In this exercise you physically changed your perspective on what was before you.

  • What was it like to have to turn the page? Were you surprised? Relieved? Curious? Frustrated? What did you discover?
  • How might the concept of “hafoch bah” be helpful as you move through this month of reflection, renewal and reconciliation?
  • Who or what in your life would you like to be able to see from a new perspective?

WEEK 3: CREATION FROM CHAOS & VOID

Framing: When we consider the creation of the world, we often imagine it as creation from nothing. Yet, in Genesis we read that the earth was תוהו ובוהו “tohu va’vohu”- “chaos and void”- before God’s creative process even began. Chaos and void are the raw materials of Creation. God delves into chaos and void and transforms these elements into land, stars, animals and human beings. Within each one of us there exists elements of chaos and void. Just as God transforms the “tohu va’vohu” of the world, during this month of teshuva each of us are invited to work with all that is unresolved, complicated or unclear within ourselves and to transform what we find.

Materials:

  • Timer
  • 1 sheet of paper
  • Any kind of drawing, sketching or painting supplies

Art Prompt:

  • Set a timer for 1 minute.
  • Close your eyes. Without lifting your marker from the page, move it around chaotically for the full minute
  • When the timer goes off, open your eyes and see what’s before you
  • Create from what’s there on the page using any material you’d like in any way that feels pleasing to you.

Reflection Questions:

In this exercise you created from chaos.

  • What did it feel like to create chaos on the page?
  • What was it like to open your eyes and see what you had created? Were you pleased? Overwhelmed? Inspired? Anxious? Something else?
  • How did you choose to work with what was there?
  • How might the concept of creating from tohu va’vohu be helpful during this month of reflection, renewal and reconciliation? What chaos and void within you, or in the world, might you seek to transform?

WEEK 4: IN THE IMAGE OF THE DIVINE

Framing: Torah teaches that we are all made in the image of the Divine. Yet there are certain aspects of ourselves that we welcome and embrace - likely aspects that society has rewarded us for (e.g. being hardworking, successful, smart, etc.) - and other aspects of who we are that we rarely let ourselves acknowledge, let alone explore. What would it be like to embrace all of who you are? What would be required?

Materials:

  • Mirror
  • 1 sheet of paper
  • Any kind of drawing, sketching or painting supplies

Art Prompt:

  • Set yourself up across from a mirror so you can see your reflection
  • Choose a pencil or marker and place it in your non-dominant hand
  • Let your eye follow the contours of your face while your hand moves on the page
  • You will create a self-portrait without looking down and without lifting your implement from the page

Reflection Questions:

In this exercise you created an image of yourself.

  • What was it like to create within the constraints provided? Was it frustrating? Exciting? Awkward? Generative? Or some other feeling?
  • What reflection of yourself do you see in the image you’ve created?
  • What does it mean to you to be made “in the image of the Divine”?
  • How might the concept of b’tzelem Elohim be helpful as you move through this month of reflection, renewal and reconciliation? What parts of yourself would you like to see as made in the image of the Divine? How might this translate to how you see others?