the penultimate WORD
2004 - June
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
It might be seen in the bridge of the nose; the cut of the jaw or perhaps it is recognized in the wave of the hair. It may be seen in the frame, or a familiar walk. Possibly it is seen in the eyes. Whatever the clues, the phrase “chip off the old block” comes to mind. And often we give voice to our thought.
Many who knew my Dad on first meeting me would comment that I was Teddy’s son. The image alone was sufficient to remind them, even years after his death. They recognized something in my image. There is an old photo of my Dad in a china cabinet in my dining room. It pictures him as a choirboy in the Mission Church when it was on Paradise Row in Saint John. It is one of the popular portrait prints of the day and is dated by the starched choir collar and floppy black bow tie! People who never knew Teddy Irvine often ask me if it’s a picture of me.
Resemblance is key in identifying kinfolk. Apart from paternity, it is somehow reassuring to know from what timber we have been hewn.
Creation claims that we have been made in the image of God. Recognition of our genesis from the mind of God or the loins of our fathers touches our sense of who we are and from whence we have come. And such recognition offers a ground of expectation that reaches beyond the physical image. Jesus indicated that those that had seen him had seen his Father.
Similarity is not the basis of an introduction. A shining halo did not alert folks to Jesus’ paternity. At a distance no identification would have been apparent. That he reflected his Father was to be discovered. Relying on my image alone, you might never see Teddy; and I might never enable you to see God either.
It seems clear to me that while we accede to having been made in the image of God, we are sufficiently passive so as not to recognize the demand to actively imitate the image of Jesus. We are in God’s image by our creation, and suffice it to say that we are satisfied to be in Jesus’ image by dint of baptism.
We are passive in birth and remain passive in rebirth.
At birth I boasted few characteristics that would identify me as the son of my father. Everything was there all right. I was cute enough to be taken home, but my features were still developing and it would be by gradual epiphanies that I would eventually reflect Teddy’s image. I was even blond till I was six or seven! The moustache came much later, as did his!
But as I grew, daily, I was studying the image that shared my parenting. He shaped more than my nose. He shaped my character. What was important and honoured by him became important and honoured by me. You might say he left his mark on me as a silversmith identifies a crafted piece with his hallmark. Things that cannot be seen reflect the nature of the man who was my father. Whatever loyalty I know I learned from him. Whatever faithfulness and devotion I know I learned kneeling beside him. Whatever love and forbearance and compassion I know and exercise I learned from seeing him live out an ethic that encouraged me to do likewise.
If you know me, you know something of my father who has been deceased forty-four years. If you knew him and have only come to know me, you may recognize him again.
Our imitation of Jesus is a study in the paternity that gave him boast. We see the Father in the Son in what the Son does in his dealings with others. Having been made in the image of God is no license for seclusion and private spirituality. It is an invitation to see the capacity of God for the genesis and redemption of all who reflect his image.
How has Jesus been a foil to the unimaginable image of God? His engagement with others in very ordinary circumstances gives us sufficient clues to piece together a gospel collage. Our difficulty is seeing Jesus beyond the liturgical and ecclesiastical experience we have grown accustomed to.
Kneeling and encouraging the fallen is the extension of the genuflexion that allows God’s glory to be seen in the street, the hospital, and the accident scene. Sharing a weight and lifting the discouraged provides an offering and oblation that transcends the transcendence of the altar and allows the presence of the Father in the midst of those who have need. The sharing of money and time and food and coat provides an extension of a communal fellowship that reaches beyond the width of any rail and allows each of us to see the presence of the Father in the activity of the Son.
The image of Jesus is seen in our worship but recognizes that as a genesis of a revelation that Jesus takes beyond our doors and out to the streets. It’s the character of God that is seen and recognized. The blind see it. The deaf hear it. The cripple dance at it. The poor celebrate it.
Those that have seen me, Jesus said, have seen my Father.
Copyright © 2004 James T. Irvine