Note: In his recent conversation with William Dembski, Darrel Falk suggested that humanity's bearing the Image of God is first and foremost about relationship, rather than biology. While we'll be looking at different aspects of the Imago Dei in the weeks to come, today we revisit a poem by Robert Siegel that also emphasizes interpersonal intimacy as the heart of what makes us distinctively human.
Discussion about Adam as the first divine "Image-bearer" often turns on the perceived conflict between scientific evidence contradicting belief in a single biological ancestor of all living human beings and Scriptural testimony that humans were made different from the rest of the creation: we have capacity to reflect the image of God.
Many posts on this Forum have suggested that the cosmological narrative in Genesis 1 is best read as being primarily about God’s identity and agency, rather than about the physical make-up or material history of the natural world. Similarly, we demonstrate our highest regard for Genesis 2’s account of the creation of Eve—the second fully human being—by looking to its meaning in terms of spiritual and interpersonal relationships, rather than genetic ones. While the specific “how” of our being made into the image of God will probably always remain a mystery, the Bible and creeds are clear on the “why” of our creation: we were made to worship the Lord, and be in relation with Him and each other. That intimate, conscious and deeply symbolic knowledge of our maker and fellow human beings is a profound difference that sets us apart from the other creatures.
I have frequently argued that poets are often the most clear on some of the important issues of our faith, including this one. Today we feature a work by Robert Siegel, who identifies the imagination as the faculty by which we recognize and name those spiritual relationships. As he says, “It's the imagination, hence language and art, that establishes the connections”; it is the imagination that allows us to conceive of and name the links between ourselves and creation, ourselves and each other, ourselves and the Creator God.
Though we often focus on Adam’s naming of the animals, and then even of Eve, Siegel helps us remember that it was in hearing his own name that Adam’s whole humanity came into being: he experienced the richness of being called by God to bear His likeness, but also of being called to by one that was profoundly “like him.” Put another way, we are speakers, but also equally hearers. May we, too, be awakened to ourselves and our image-bearing identity by a still, soft voice saying our name. May we, too, in gratitude and delight, call upon the name of the one, Jesus, who is both our God and our fellow man.
by Robert Siegel
The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream:
he awoke and found it truth. --Keats
He saw the garden spreading past the trees
he'd been warned to avoid (yet keep a special eye on).
He'd learned by scents, transported by the breeze,
myriads of roses and how, by hand, the scion
of one to graft on another--and what was edible:
whole families of legumes, grasses, roots,
melons, peaches, apples, pears. Incredible,
the variety of tastes just from the fruits!
But it wasn't enough. Even the breathing animals
with friendly grunt or sigh, silken warm side,
and large affectionate eye were not able
to speak. When he named them, none replied:
His words fell dead on the air--though he said
them everywhere, walking or running to each place:
to the mountain, which echoed back the sounds he made,
or the still pool, returning his own gaze.
But no one answered him until one night in a dream
he woke and heard a soft voice speak his name.
“Adam’s Dream” first appeared in issue 3 of Stonework, the literary journal of Houghton College. © 2001 Robert Siegel
Robert Siegel is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction, most recently A Pentecost of Finches: New and Selected Poems. He has received prizes and awards from Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Transatlantic Review, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and his poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His fiction includes Alpha Centauri and the Whalesong trilogy, which received the Golden Archer and Matson awards. With degrees from Wheaton, Johns Hopkins, and Harvard, Siegel has taught at Dartmouth, Princeton, and Goethe University in Frankfurt, and for twenty-three years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he directed the graduate creative writing program and is currently professor emeritus of English. He is married to Ann Hill Siegel, a photographer, and lives on the coast of Maine.