In the spring of my senior year of high school, after the stress of college applications and acceptance were over, my best friend and I both had the overwhelming urge to…color.
We went to the drugstore and bought a brand-new 64 pack of Crayola crayons and a couple of those super-sized coloring books, the ones that are as big as our entire upper bodies. Mine had Sesame Street characters. We took them back to my house, sat on the floor stretched over the pages, and colored.
We wanted at that moment in our lives, I believe, to break free from the pressure to produce a product and instead to enjoy the process of taking a black and white outline, choosing only a place to start and a color to start with, and watching the picture emerge.
I came across a story recently about a new coloring book for adults called Outside the Lines (Perigee Trade, September 2013). In this volume, editors have collected images like this:
Images that are far more complicated, sophisticated, and evocative than Ernie and Bert, and more compelling to the adult mind. When I see this image, I think if I were poised with crayon in hand: Where would I start? What is my eye drawn to first? How will the picture change as each section slowly emerges? What is this picture saying, what will be revealed?
We read in Torah tonight about the beginning of it all, about creation. V’haaretz hay’tah tohu vavohu, And the earth was without form, and void.
I imagine, in the very beginning, it looked something like this.
And God took the chaos and began to give it form. God took a jumble of dots, barely distinguishable from each other, and began to separate them. God took the chaos and made structure, light and darkness, heaven and earth, land and water, day and night.
Outlines of form. And eventually, God created man and woman.
So many forms God put on earth, so many black and white outlines, waiting to be filled in, waiting to emerge. God needed a partner to start coloring, and the beauty of creation was slowly revealed.
The ancient rabbis discuss in the Midrash whether all of creation actually happened on one day, the first day, or whether creation really developed over six days with a new form, a new structure each day. It says in the Midrash “Rav Nehemiah stated: On the very same day that heaven and earth were created, they brought forth at once the generations that have since issued from them. Rav Judah objected: But is it not said, ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day, a second day, a third day, a fourth day, a fifth day, a sixth day?’ Rav Nehemiah replied: All that has been generated from heaven and earth corresponds to the experience of those who harvest figs—each being was created at the beginning but became visible only at the time designated for it.”
Fig trees show all their fruit on the tree at the same time, but the fruit does not ripen all at the same time. The outline of the tree, the black and white form, stays the same. But some figs deepen in color before others. And as they do, the appearance of the tree changes, and we are aware of the ripening process.
So it was with the creation of the world and so it is with us. I find comfort in thinking of myself as a fig tree. I’m here, I have been here in black and white outline for some time, but I am still in the process of emerging in color. Different facets of me have appeared in color at different times and I know there are still parts of me yet to be developed, to become the focus of the coloring process.
With each life experience we emerge from the jumble of black and white dots into a fuller expression of who we are and who we want to be. We hold the crayons. We are pulled to this experience first and watch that part of the picture take shape and at the right moment we’re drawn to a different experience, a piece that will change, and also fill out, the picture.
Creation is happening every day. We each need only move to another part of the picture of us to find inspiration, to grow, and to watch the fullest expression of ourselves emerge through color.