Creation as an Image of God, continued

For Rabbi David Seidenberg, part of our being made in God’s image is that we recognize the face of God in all beings.  “[Perhaps] what it means to be in God’s image is that we see the image in all creatures.” (411) 

Calling all beings brother and sister in the Divine: “St. Francis Preaching to the Animals” by Hans Stubenrauch (1875-1941)

Here he is invoking the ancient teaching of speculative mysticism—which is NOT about speculation but about mirroring.  (The Latin word for mirror is speculum.)  Every creature is a mirror of God, a face of God.  That is the tradition that Rabbi David is evoking anew. 

Nicolas of Cusa, the great fifteenth century scientist and mystic, wrote that within the face (small f) of every creature is the one Face (big F) of the Divine. We look into a creature deeply and we see something of God’s beauty and wisdom and delight. 

This is mysticism.  Prophecy flows from it: Prophecy (or warriorhood) is our standing up to defend the beauty and integrity of the image and mirror we have beheld.  This is eco-action.

Activist Julia Butterfly Hill tree-sits in the “watchtower tree” at the South Central Farm on May 28, 2006. Photo by borderhacker on Flickr

Rabbi David presents his basic thesis that can move us beyond an anthropocentric religious narcissism in very direct language when he says:

Tselem [God’s image] according to the rabbis is not limited to human beings….Later rabbinic texts equated the idea of God’s image with imitating God, another important ground for a deep ecotheology.  [It means we act] with compassion towards the other creatures and [see] the image of God in them.  These larger conclusions reframe tradition and scripture and open new paths of understanding.

“The Cat Man of Aleppo,” Mohammad Alaa Jaleel, remained in Aleppo, Syria, after the 2018 bombing, where he continues to look after more than a hundred stray and abandoned cats. Video by BBC News.

Recognizing the image of God in ourselves and others is not about mere gazing at but about action, divine action, that is to say, compassion. 

Nouns are not enough; verbs matter. Right action matters.   Compassion is the true imitation of God (see Thomas Aquinas on this and also his saying “compassion is the fire that Jesus came to set on this earth.”) 

Rabbi David is correct: Here is the starting point of a profound ecotheology.  It leads to action including the action of letting go.  Letting go of self-centered and anthropocentric thinking—“we are the only images of God”—and reconnecting to our authentic mystical roots (i.e. our roots as lovers of all beings and God in all beings as well as beyond all beings): That every being is a Cosmic Christ; a Buddha Nature; a Tselem or image of God.

The family of the late conservationist Steve Irwin have treated 90,000 animal patients in their zoo hospital since its 2008 founding, with a drastic increase in cases during and since the Australian bushfires of the past few years. Video by CBS News.

It also instructs us to let go of the tired notion that only we are “the people of God.”  Every creature is a person of God and the communities they form and we form with them are the People of God. 

It is time we act accordingly from this intuition of holiness, what Rabbi Heschel loved to call the “Grandeur” of existence, the grandeur of creation.  To act on behalf of this grandeur is to act God-like.

Citations are taken from Rabbi David Seidenberg, Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World.

See Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

Also Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

Also Matthew Fox, Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Banner Image: Embracing Creation. Photo by Alex Woods on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Have you, like Rabbi David and Nicolas of Cusa, learned to see the Face of God in looking into the faces of all creatures?  And of creation itself?  How has that changed you?  How does it affect your daily choices of living and loving?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

Resurrection Logic: How Jesus’ First Followers Believed God Raised Him from the Dead

Bruce Chilton investigates the Easter event of Jesus in Resurrection Logic. He undertakes his close reading of the New Testament texts without privileging the exact nature of the resurrection, but rather begins by situating his study of the resurrection in the context of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Syrian conceptions of the afterlife. He then identifies Jewish monotheistic affirmations of bodily resurrection in the Second Temple period as the most immediate context for early Christian claims. Chilton surveys first-generation accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and finds a pluriform–and even at times seemingly contradictory–range of testimony from Jesus’ first followers. This diversity, as Chilton demonstrates, prompted early Christianity to interpret the resurrection traditions by means of prophecy and coordinated narrative.

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2 thoughts on “Creation as an Image of God, continued”

  1. Avatar

    Sing the hymn “God of the sparrow, God of the whale, God of the swirling stars, How does the creature say Awe…Joy…Care…Peace.” words by Jaroslav Vandals, tune Carl Schalk, 1983

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Thank you for sharing this wonderful hymn that so elegantly lifts up the varieties of beings on our planet and gives us a way to acknowledge their praise. It was a wild concept in the 1983, that all creatures, rocks and whales, rivers and sparrows express awe and gratitude for creation. Matthew published Original Blessing that same year. Perhaps they inspired each other. It has taken decades for the rest of us moderns to begin to appreciate the wisdom of our winged, finned, furry, scaled, leafed, and feathered companions on Earth.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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