- At the Desert Retreat House -
Yesterday I came across a picture of one of Michelangelo's famous frescoes painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome - the renowned portrait of the creation of Adam. "God" is depicted as a wise old man with a flowing white beard whose arm is extended downward from heaven touching life into the upward pointing finger of Adam.
That one single image of the Michelangelo fresco immediately elicited a powerful memory in me of my second grade teacher who one day told us she had a special surprise for us, because she was about to show us an actual picture of God. Then she unveiled that picture of the fresco in the Sistine Chapel, and said, "Look boys and girls, this is what God looks like." I will never forget that moment, what luck to actually get to see what God really looks like. The problem is, of course, that this really wasn't a picture of "God." It was actually a picture of "man."
As a boy I was taught that human beings were made in the image and likeness of "God." I have come to believe that it's the other way around. Human beings have crafted "God" into the image and likeness of humans.
Over the ages, in order to somehow "get at" this unexplainable Mystery, people in all cultures and in all times have generated various images, depictions, metaphors for "God"- a mighty king, a heavenly father who touches the finger of Adam, a vindictive judge or a kindly friend. The images and metaphors are always pictures that come out of the experiences of our own humanity. "God" doesn't have fingers or a long beard or robes, people do. So, for the most part we have made God into our own image and likeness.
There is no way in which we can ever understand, grasp, analyze, name, or depict the great unexplainable "Mystery" we call "God." Our images of "God" are little more than feeble attempts at understanding that which cannot be understood.
There is, however, one particular passage in the Christian scriptures that does rather emphatically declare who "God" actually "is."
God is love
Where there is love, there is God.
Imagine that, "God"- not a superman in the sky with magical fingers, but "God" is love.
In his classic book, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton once observed:
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence,
for God is love.
for God is love.
Love is my true identity.
Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character.
Love is my name.
If therefore, I do anything or think anything or say or know anything that is not done out of love,
it cannot give me peace or rest, or fulfillment, or joy.
On this Sunday morning I look again at that picture of the stunning Michelangelo fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and I look at it with new eyes. That old man with the long beard and flowing robes is in fact a picture of "love," and Adam is me and all humankind.
Love is the energy that flows in us, connects us, binds us together and gives life to our common humanity. Anything not done out of love goes against our very nature as human beings, and we can only find our "true self" when we are able to recognize that love is our true identity.
Yes, I do indeed believe that we are all made in the image of "God," and you don't have to be a "believer" to believe this.