Graduate student, Rebecca Jane Bedell, composed this poem for Worship on April 8th, 2018, as Rev. Mark Elsdon preached the sermon, “Is God a Man?” You can listen to her reading the poem at the end of sermon. Rebecca is a candidate in the MFA program at UW Madison.
In His Own Image
Michelangelo stands crammed against the chapel
ceiling, his weight swaying the wooden scaffolding,
neck craned back as he frescoes the hands, eyes,
and beard of a man he could meet on the streets
of the Vatican. A regal man with traveled eyes.
And why not? By 1508, artists had overcome
their awesome fear of depicting God the Father. So it
has been. Holding a brush, a pen, a keyboard, our
imaginations feel a tremble in their climbing muscles,
fall back and tumble down the smooth riverbeds
of what we know, back into the arms of those we came with,
those who look like us. If imagination could look
from the mountaintop, it would run out of air,
faint on the image of Earth falling away into space.
For convenience, our tongues have sculpted pronouns, two
bathroom lines, assigned God one side of the clothing store.
Just as I, age five, imagined God as my own dad, bushy
Santa beard in a recliner with a TV remote. Human God
rolling over, smacking the alarm clock sun, hustling down
the cloudy stairs and pulling his work gloves on, feet dangling
over the world. Forgive us if we can do better. If human,
Rilke imagined God a lonely neighbor, aching
for a glass of water—or the poet’s unborn son, growing
impossibly under skin. Like him, I write of God as lover,
God as seamstress. I wear my similes like a bathrobe
in a blizzard. We can dress God the Mother in her bloody
scrubs, wrapping bandages around all cloven sinew.
Even a radical transgender God would still look like me.
Let us pile our imitations, discordant songs
and paper effigies into a ramshackle altar—
even the translated words of our holy books, deluging
out from our unable lips. Then, let God.
Let a storm smash
the whole construction.
God pulling Godself out of the lightless grotto
of the universe, acting in the electron sizzle
among atoms, most fundamental force, God
the last unknown. Show me why I open outward
in desolate spaces: muted streetlamps after snow,
the sepia tumult of a hurricane. God the frozen lake,
God the blazing tree in its dark center. Reveal the painter’s
image pluming into flames, brushes immolated, eyes
cowering and covered in the corner. Reveal God
who cannot be cupped on the tongue of one who has studied
long enough—reveal us minuscule and wordless
standing for the first time in a field under the galaxy.
The battering tongue of wind the only speech,
pulling the honey of our voices out from the hives
of our throats. God shattering into fantastic grain,
spilt in the vineyards, filling the volatile chapels of
our bodies: thrumming furnaces of grace.