Genesis 1:26 Then God said, :Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” so God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them. Male and female God created them” I want you to know that I stay up late at night wondering, thinking, pondering about such lines from the Bible and what meaning it can have for us as Unitarian Universalists. I would first like to point out that in the story God said Let “us” make humankind in “our” image. Most people gloss over that fact of multiple Gods in the early verses of Genesis.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out as we discussed in our Bible class that this creation story in Genesis says nothing about a woman being created from a rib. This of course was the story I was raised with. This was a God of creation. It is strange that so much theology has been created about the concept of God that has been so harmful to so many and has led to violence. And so we have to ask, the purpose for our image of God?... Its purpose is that there is something inside each of us that yearns to understand where we come from and what is the purpose of our existence.
We yearn to understand why there is suffering, and how to deal with it, we yearn for some guidance in how to we live with the knowledge that our life will end. The Greeks and Romans in trying to answer these questions created mythical figures who interacted with humans. Often these characters had the same emotional strengths and weaknesses as humans. The three Western Religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam known as religions of the book, focus on obedience to rules as a way to answer these questions.
I think it is interesting that the second of the 10 commandments in the book of Exodus ch 20 v4, states that we should specifically” not make a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the water under the earth”. So on two levels, I think this is interesting. First, the concept from the very beginning is that we should not create an image of God. Now it is true that part of this was to allow the Hebrews to differentiate themselves from the neighboring groups which did create idols that were worshiped.
But I would also speculate that making it one of the first commandments was also a recognition and foresight that our image of God will change over time, and thus we should not create an image that fixates God in any particular way. Secondly, the commandment encompasses the entirety of the universe, in the sky, in the ground, in the water, indicates that their image of God is a God that is a part of and included in all of existence. Yet many who were brought up in these religions had an image of a condemning God, who would judge one for their actions, and thus required your obedience. But our experience with reality put this image into question.
Suffering touched the just as well as the unjust. In fact often suffering often affected the just more so than the unjust. And as knowledge of the universe expanded, the realization that the image of an old man with a beard in the clouds who judges was not an adequate image anymore for the word God for the yearnings we had. So we need a new image of God. In a short story The Wandering Jew by Elie Wiesel he writes, “Humans define themselves by what disturbs them and not by what reassures him. When will you understand that you are living and searching in error, because God means movement and not explanation?” That caught my attention because the first of Unitarian Universalists stated sources includes “the transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;” Again the language we use to speak of our yearnings, of our search, we speak of movement and creation. What is unique about all human beings compared with other parts of creation? Humanity’s uniqueness is our ability to reason, to use cognitive thought and to express that cognitive thought artistically.
Truthfully, we do not know this for certain, as there may be other creatures, dolphins for example that may possess this skill. Yet even asking that question, shows our uniqueness. We are always using the process of examination and self examination to explore. And this is at the core of our religion as our fourth principle states we affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. We are driven to explore as a species. Why else would we send probes out into space to see pictures from millions of light years away and as well spend hours in therapy trying to figure out what moves our unconscious mind.
We want to learn more about ourselves, and the universe around us. We do often make images of the skies above, the earth below and the waters, we do so as a way to explore, to discern, and as a means to create ways to express those yearnings I spoke of earlier , the unanswerable questions, the questions that haunt us, the questions that disturb us. For once we stop asking the questions, we stop moving, we stop creating, we stop evolving.
Unitarians have a long history dedicated to the ongoing evolution of humanity which they called Self Culture. Transcendentalist William Ellery Channing in 1838 defined it as “the care which every human owes to themself, to the unfolding and perfecting of their nature.” So how do we improve ourselves, how do we attain this self culture. Some of the main methods are self discernment and self questioning through solitude and meditations. Other methods include prayer, walking, private and public worship, and small group discussions. The key is to improving awareness. Just being aware of how things are, how your relationships are, how society is.
Awareness of our surroundings. How nature is impacted by our actions, how our relationships are impacted by our actions, how we are impacted by our actions and thoughts. We must continue to search for the wisdom that leads us to this unfolding of our nature. The challenge of self examination, of self culture, is the risk that it creates a self-centered individualism. Particularly in our multicultural world that we live in today, in our covenantal community, individualism creates divisions. I do think that before we can see others for who they are, we do need to see ourselves for who we are.
But I believe when we become self aware, when we go into the depth of our consciousness, when we learn the true essence of who we are, and what we are here for, we will realize that we are connected and interdependent with all of existence, and we will find that commonality of life amidst the multiculturalism that makes us all unique. This is a fine balance. How do we maintain that which is unique to being who we are, while learning the universal truths about existence. As with most things, as we search, as we live, as we connect, we must find that balance, between living in the here and now, and understanding the greater long term impact we can have,
The balance between the raising our children and sometimes caring for parents, and paying our bills, versus realizing that there are many children in need and many people without even the basic necessities right here in our own community, necessities which we take for granted. And I believe that by helping others, by being part of a community, we help ourselves realize the best nature of our humanity. If what makes humans unique is our creative expressions of cognitive reasoning, then maybe God is the word we use to describe the energy within us and within everything, that sparks life, that sparks creative cognitive thinking, that sparks that intuitivity that moves us towards the good.
When we use intuition that leads to right action we are tapping into a universal understanding of the way things are or should be. Maybe when all of society becomes aware of the positive creative interconnections and comes to together to implement them, we will experience what some would call the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. It is not always a smooth or even journey, and we will make mistakes, but when we do, we should admit to it and adjust our direction. This was brought home to me when I was reading the comments of a woman who was receiving supplies in New York after Hurricane Sandy. She was thankful, but she said, and I quote “The only time rich white people recognize us is when there’s some disaster. And then she poignantly added “Why wait for tragedy?” “People suffer every day” Why wait for tragedy. That was powerful. We don’t need to wait. We have the capability, we just need the will. Sometimes things don’t work out, Sometimes we are confronted with our own limitations and our own lack of awareness and when we are we need to act. And in thinking how we can become aware last night, in such a way, I received an epiphany. I was making garlic bread, and I forgot to set the timer. All of a sudden as I was reviewing the sermon for today, my eyes starting tearing up…..and I started wondering why I am getting so emotional about this. Then I realized that the apartment was filling up with smoke as the garlic bread burned. And I quickly threw open the door and windows and let in the fresh air. And I remembered to set the timer when I put new pieces in the oven. So when we are challenged by something we were unaware of throw open the doors and windows of our minds, let a fresh air into the house of your soul, clear the smoke from your eyes, clear the old images from your mind and start anew and create something new.
As the Bible says we should not have an image of God. If we do not have an image of God, and if we are created in the image of God, that means that we should not have an image of ourselves. And that is a scary thought. We do often get wrapped up in our own image. What our beliefs are, How we view ourselves, how others view us. We create labels, Democrat, Republican, Socialist, Progressive, Conservative. And then we praise or demonize based on these labels. These are nothing more than images. The danger is that we will begin to believe in our images, and worse we will get stuck in our images. This is my image of myself, so this is how I must be. And once we do that, then we stop growing as well. And once we stop growing, something inside us dies. We need to transcend our own images of ourselves. So I say Let go, let go of the images of yourself and the world and look with fresh, clear eyes at everything you see. Awake!! Awake to the wonder of the universe. Awake to new and different ways of beings. Awake to the creation we are blessed with and let us create something with it. The picture on the front of the order of service is of a picture I took of the trees looking outside this sanctuary. People over the years planted and tended to those trees, to create something we can today marvel at. But also the environment allowed for it. What else does the environment allow for. What is it that disturbs you in the world? What or who is missing from our Congregation, our Community? What other seeds can we plant, whether for trees in the ground or in the young minds of our children and the children and young adults we work with at Williams Middle School the West Davenport Center. Let us create a new world. It will not happen by itself. We must work with what we have been given.
We must create movement, movement from apathy to caring, movement from exploitation to justice, movement from violence to peace. Movement from yearning to action. In order to create those movements we must have movement in our hearts. Movement in our hearts to love for all of creation. That is my image of God. May it be so