Spirituality & Theology, Society & Culture

Imago Dei

(re-posted with permission from http://www.cloistral.net)

Rev. Barbara Prose was prompted to talk today by a member of the congregation who suffered some significant losses in her family and who approached Barbara for advice because she felt she had lost her purpose in life and her identity and wasn’t helped by well-meaning friends who wanted her to be as she was before the life-changing events.

Often we develop our identity by the work we do or the rôle we play in life. We don’t think about it much until we pass through troubled times. My mother didn’t know what to do with herself for about a year after my father died—hardly surprising after more than fifty years of marriage; eventually she found a new direction, though I’m sure she continued to feel the loss of my father’s presence.

Title of Barbara’s talk is Imago Dei, meaning that we are made in the image of God; if so, she asked what is our calling or compelling life choice? What is it that gives meaning, worth, dignity, and joy to all our days? Barbara used the apocryphal story of the man who planted trees to show that it is possible to do major work utterly unnoticed, work that one does because one feels compelled to it.

I like the idea of the man who planted trees, who did so because he wanted to, because he was doing something he thought important. I like the man who planted trees because he didn’t want fame or fortune or approval—he just did. And in doing he left the world a better place than when he entered. That, I suppose, has become my compelling life choice, to leave the world better than it was when I arrived.

Trees planted by one person whose long-term vision transforms a barren landscape isn’t too different from what we as individuals can do to transform a barren social landscape. In our journey from birth to death we—all of us—are either sowing wheat or tares, planting acorns or dragon’s teeth. Our every interaction with others is an opportunity to plant acorns. During our lives we have many daily interactions; at each opportunity, what will we sow: wheat or tares, acorns or dragon’s teeth?

Big oaks from little acorns grow. We can plant wheat and acorns by being polite, generous, compassionate, caring, and humble. We plant wheat and acorns by nurturing others, by being truthful, honest, broad-minded, and fair-dealing. We can choose to do so thereby improving our quality of life and changing the world for the better; it is something we can practice doing every day at every opportunity. Just as the climate improves and the natural environment burgeons with a diversity of life by the presence of trees, so does our social climate improve with the small improvements that radiate away from each of us to nurture our social surroundings.

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