I was looking at this notion of being created as ‘imago Dei‘ and wondered what it meant for us in the 21st Century. I did a little etymological investigation into the root of this word. In Hebrew ‘tselem’ is the word for this creative act (imago). It apparently has an unused root meaning ‘to shade’.
Whilst we are taught a lot about ‘cultural power’ and ‘authority’ we are sometimes led down the Enlightenment plot of having dominion, of Empire building. Institutionally there is so much of this kind of stuff polluting our minds that it is difficult to see past the clutter. How does this idea of imago impact our work in the arts and our lives as artists?
As I checked out this little gem, ‘to shade’, the nuance of suggestiveness came alive. The Hebrew tense (stay with me here) is causative, meaning that we cause a shadow to be cast. With this in mind perhaps we can understand more that God couldn’t cast a shadow over Creation and so we were born of ‘dust and flesh’, so that we could cast God’s shadow on earth. In our creative acts and presence here on earth we overshadow it through an act of cultivation, of tending and caring for every aspect of life; weeding, cross-fertilisation and cultivating; all as an act of pursuing our cultural calling.
For a long time, that shadow has not been seen over the arts, or politics, or economics, but let us consider that as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘this [body] is the shape of the Spirit on earth’. We were created from earthly stuff and animated into life by the ruach, the breath of God. Our work here on earth is to cast God’s shadow over the arts, in whatever form that takes, as a testimony of presence, of the owner’s intent to redeem it all. The light cast to create this form, this sense of presence is not our own and of course, lest we forget, we are reminded in another book that sometimes shadows can bring healing.
How it works, I do not know, but the fact is, it leads us to believe in the shadow cast by the Word who became flesh and then also of our part in that work.
This article first appeared on The Arts Mentoring Group blog: