Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Then he said to them, "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. -Matthew 22:15-22
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
What is the work of human works if not to establish, in and by means of each one of us, an absolutely original center in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way?
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Whose likeness is this? asked Jesus indicating the image on the coin. Caeser's. Then, Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and render unto God that which is God's. And what does rendering unto God mean? Whose likeness am I? I bear the image and likeness of God and I am God's (Meditation One).
The Hopkins poem: My inner (indoor) self knows why I live and what I was born to do. Like the singular brightness of the kingfisher or dragonfly, or the sound of the echoed scrape of a pebble thrown down a well, or the plucked string of a violin, or the precise moment of a bell's strike and its own peculiar recognizable tone - there's something intrinsic to and unique in me. That uniqueness connects me to the Holy. What I do is me: for that I came!
I look at God with Christ's own eyes in me. For it is not I that lives, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). My individuality, my "selfing" reflects my deepening union with God within the wonder and paradox of of the magnificent diversity and differentiation in creation (Meditation Two).
Unlike the flat, imprinted image of Tiberius Caesar appearing all alike upon a million coins, it is in my very uniqueness that I find the image and likeness of God in me.
And how to approach the world after this insight? There's no escape from the call to activism in the particular issues and problems of the decade, the year, the moment in which I live (Meditation Three).
Uniquely yours, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Image and Likeness
In Genesis we read that we are made in the image and likeness of God: "God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). Each person is created singularly, uniquely, reflecting something of God in their person. But when minting coins a ruler makes all the images exactly the same; they are flat representations of himself. When Jesus asks for the coin and poses the question, "Whose image and inscription is this?" they respond with Caesar's name and image. … The coin belongs to Caesar, but the person, the human being, belongs solely to God.
-Megan McKenna On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross
And just for fun ... don't forget What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us? (from Monty Python's The Life of Brian)
(Lord Peter Wimsey has just visited a church and asked advice of the vicar, who counsels Wimsey that, unlike human law, in divine law sin is in the intention, not the deed. After their conversation Mr. Tredgold, the vicar, is thinking to himself.)
"I must make a special intention for him at Mass to-morrow." Being a practical man, Mr. Tredgold made a knot in his handkerchief to remind himself of this pious resolve. "The problem - to interfere or not to interfere- God's law and Caesar's. Policemen, now - it's no problem to them. But for the ordinary man - how hard to disentangle his own motives. I wonder what brought him here. Could it possible be - No!" said the vicar, checking himself, "I have no right to speculate." He drew out his handkerchief again and made another mnemonic knot as a reminder against his next confession that he had fallen into the sin of inquisitiveness.
-Dorothy Sayers 1893-1957 Unnatural Death
The Creation of Adam, Mosaic, 1182-92, Duomo Monreale, Sicily
Meditation Two (Insight) Inscape
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came. Í say móre: the just man justices; Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is— Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
-Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-1889
Meditation Three (Integration) Domination Systems
Thus this text offers little or no guidance for tax season. It neither claims taxation is legitimate nor gives aid to anti-tax activists. It neither counsels universal acceptance of political authority nor its reverse. But it does raise the provocative and still relevant question: what belongs to God, and what belongs to Caesar? And what if Caesar is Hitler, or apartheid, or communism, or global capitalism? What is to be the attitude of Christians toward domination systems, whether ancient or modern?
Man is never truly himself except when he is actively creating something.
-Dorothy Sayers 1893-1957 Begin Here: A Wartime Essay
Do you remember the scene in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time in which all the children on the planet Camazotz bounce a ball in their front yards with chilling uniformity? I may not remember this correctly, but I believe one child misses the ball and the story implies that the punishment for lack of uniformity is terrifying.
I love thinking about the millions of alike coins imprinted with Caesar's image compared with the overwhelming un-alikeness of all of us bumbling around in God's image and likeness. Lately I've come to notice and appreciate differentiation in nature and the universe; a clarifying lens of wonder to any direction you look; skyward or inward, to the horizon or in the bean patch.
Here's a quote from Diarmuid O'Murchu's book Evolutionary Faith: Rediscovering God in Our Great Story:
“Differentiation” refers to the diversity, variation, and heterogeneity that we see all around us, highlighting how things differ from one another even within the same class or species. In a word, everything is uniquely different, irrespective of its strength or weakness. No two atoms are identical. This variety is enhanced by an essential newness - what Swimme and Berry* call “an outrageous bias for the novel” - that characterizes the unfolding of life at every level. Continuous innovation rather than consistent preservation is what we witness throughout the story of evolution.
“Autopoiesis” describes that propensity within all life-forms to self-organize and self-renew, a power from within that does not simply maintain homeostasis (Balance), but engenders the enduring creativity that begets sustenance and growth. It is described by Swimme and Berry as “the power each thing has to participate directly in the cosmos creating endeavor.”
Hans Jonas (1996, 170ff.) suggests that we might ascribe to matter a “tendency” toward inwardness. He suggests that there is no plan or logos in the early universe, but there is a “cosmogonic eros”: “Right from the beginning, matter is subjectivity in its latent form, even if aeons, plus exceptional luck, are required for the actualizing of this potential.”
“Communion” is the goal of all movement, personal and planetary alike. Communion is the power within the evolutionary story that forever draws things into mutual interdependence. Relationship is the essence of existence; nothing makes sense in isolation. Everything that exists, animate and inanimate alike, is begotten out of a relational matrix. Communion is the cosmic destiny of all beings in a universe structured within the embrace of the curvature of space-time.
Together, these three fundamental energies provide the “lifeblood” on which evolution unfold and thrives. To quote Swimme and Berry,
Were there no differentiation, the universe would collapse into a homogeneous smudge; were there no subjectivity (autopoiesis), the universe would collapse into inert, dead extension; were there no communion, the universe would collapse into isolated singularities of being.
I don't have to point out the dangers of the lack of biodiversity, do I? Please don't make me rant. Look up the causes of pandemic and you'll get the picture.
*Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story