LENT: Week four, Monday: Imago Dei
Every person is an image of God. That is to say, every person – the least, the greatest; the most gifted, the most challenged; the most delightful, the most repellent – is made in the likeness and image of the God who is passionate, self-emptying love, with all the terrible dignity that fact entails.
To regain something of the astonishing meaning of this assertion, we need to remember that, in the ancient world, an “image” was more than a mirror reflection or a “little picture” (although it was those things as well); it was an icon that to some extent carried, communicated and participated in the power of the thing it represented – which is one of the reasons the prohibition of graven images was so fundamental a part of the Hebrew religious ethos.
Applied to human persons, then, the affirmation that each of us has been created in the divine image does not mean simply that we are called to some sort of pious game of make-believe along the lines of “wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all acted as if every person we met were God encountering us?” No, it means that, in actual fact, each person that crosses our path is a living icon of the God that made and sustains all that is. Thus, each person is both glorious in his or her essence and potential and, to some extent, tragic or terrifying in the distortion of such potential through the effects of that breach of God’s intent for creation which we call sin.
Clearly to allow this reality to seep into our consciousness immediately turns everything about the way we normally live with each other on its heard, smashing the implicit complacency of our lives.
-Lawrence Holben, from All the Way to Heaven: A Theological Reflection on Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and the Catholic Worker