So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)
When I was a graduate student at the University of North Texas one of my jobs was to teach elementary music to a class of undergraduate students who were studying to become elementary classroom teachers. Most of these students were young adults in their early 20s but I also had a number of non-traditional students who were much older. The idea was that these future teachers might use music in their daily classroom instruction or, in a worst-case scenario, if there was no music specialist in the grade school where they would eventually teach, they could offer rudimentary music education to their classes.
Most of these students had no experience with music learning and many of them were anxious and insecure about learning music. All of these undergraduates had to take a course in the arts to complete their degrees. On the first day of instruction, I asked them to fill out a survey. In one question, I asked them to tell me why they had selected music as their art course. A number of them indicated that the visual arts and dramatic arts courses had been full when they enrolled for the semester. To say they were reluctant students would be an understatement.
Recognizing their anxiety, I began class instruction with an instrument called the recorder. It is a small flute-like instrument that is often used with young elementary-aged children because it is fairly easy to play and they can experience musical success quickly. The recorder dates back centuries and so it has the advantage of being a legitimate instrument with a wealth of music written specifically for it.
I will never forget after a few classes, how excited these students were about their music-making! These young adults would ask me if they could come to class early to practice and they organized group practice sessions. Some would tell me how they had played the songs they had learned for friends and family. I was encouraged by their joy in these musical accomplishments. This is only one example of many I could relate regarding the joyful experiences my students at all grade levels have had over the years while making music. Because of these experiences, I have come to believe that when we create something – play a song, write a story, or paint a picture – this artistic act activates our Godly nature. We are exhibiting the nature of God as creator. In my experience as a music teacher, this joyful feeling is not related to our expertise in music. It is not dependent on our becoming a virtuoso. The creative act itself is a catalyst for our connection with the divine creative spirit.
The theological idea at work here is called Imago Dei or Image of God and it comes out of the Genesis 1:27 scripture I quoted above. It means we are created in God’s image. Here is a more finely grained explanation regarding the idea contained in the Genesis 1:27 passage:
This scriptural passage does not mean that God is in human form, but rather, that humans are in the image of God in their moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature. Thus, humans mirror God’s divinity in their ability to actualize the unique qualities with which they have been endowed, and which make them different than all other creatures: rational structure, complete centeredness, creative freedom, a possibility for self-actualization, and the ability for self-transcendence.*
The point is that as human beings, we are made in the image of God. No one has seen God. Thus, the image we speak of is related to our nature or our interiority. Put another way, we all have differences in our appearance, but we all contain the sacred essence of our Creator.
This is why Christians are called to love all people and to work for justice and peace. All forms of bigotry and racism, including structures that deny justice because of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity are sinful and we are called as followers of Christ to oppose evil in all its forms. I believe it is our duty to actively resist this evil in our world as we affirm the value, worth and dignity of all people, recognizing the presence of the divine in each person we meet. This notion is articulated beautifully in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German theologian who was executed by the Nazis in 1945.
As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you… Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us. Do you want to close the door or open it?
How is God calling you to respond to this moment? I invite you to pray about this and give your prayers action! You are Christ’s agent in the world.
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands,
yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes,
you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
St. Teresa of Ávila.
You are Christ’s body here on earth. So are we all!
Grace and Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.