By Chaplain Resident Deborah Metcalf
Theologian Amos Yong addresses a beautiful theology of relationship in his book Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity. The point of his book is to be in relationship, and where relationship fails, connection is lost, and injustice exists. Yong speaks to this in defining the image of God, or imago Dei. He writes “imago Dei is less about some constitutive element of the human person and more about God’s revelation in Christ and in the faces of our neighbors; yet the life of Jesus provides a normative account for what it means to be human, and the Holy Spirit creatively enables and empowers our full humanity in relationship to ourselves, others, and God, even in the most ambiguous situations” (Yong, 180-181).
Yong is not only speaking to the importance of being in relationship, he is expressing that being in relationship is the very nature of a trinitarian God (traditionally as Yong outlines, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). I value knowing God through deep, authentic, vulnerable, interpersonal relationships. These relationships should be built upon mutual respect, compassion, and seeking understanding. I believe that this extends not only between humans, but to nature and the way we care for creation as well— knowing that I have a relationship to all of creation. God dwells in the “in between” in the connection between two or more beings (human, animal, plant, etc.). This is also a good way to look at the trinitarian nature of God, that God exists in relationship and the trinity is a perfect model of God being in relationship to God’s self, and to the world made in God’s image multifaceted and juxtaposed.
Yong also writes that “God revels in plurality and difference…” we should embrace this intentional, celebratory, difference (Yong, 181). Gerard Manly Hopkins reminds us of this also through his poem called Pied Beauty in which he describes a creation celebrated for it’s beautiful contrast. He writes:
“Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him” (Manley-Hopkins, poetryfoundation.org)
This poem, to me, describes Imago Dei perfectly, that we should be working together to create a world that is intentional about embracing difference. It is through this image of contrasting creation in relationship, modeled after the trinity, exemplified by Jesus Christ, that we can experience a paradise where God is known as love in relationship.
We are meant to be in relationship with others, to learn from each other, and to know that everyone has something beautiful to offer. A good, healthy relationship between friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, whomever— even nature, is one that seeks understanding, is compassionate, kind, and loving. When we foster these seeds of love and compassion in one another and in our relationships, this is one way we can truly know God and God’s love! God is both in and around everyone and everything, bridging the gap between humanity and divinity. God lies a little in each of us, God lies in between us, and love connects us. “Dear friends…anyone who knows love, knows God because God is love” (1st John 4:7-8).
Yong, Amos. Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity. Baylor University Press, 2007.