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“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them…”(Genesis 1:27)

He suffered from depression for many years and underwent psychiatric treatment. Married three times, his personal relationships were described by some as troubled. Defined as a nervous man who contemplated suicide at least once, he was believed to have suffered from some dementia at the end of his life. He had deep insecurities about his work and often referred to himself as an illustrator rather than an artist. Despite all of this, his paintings created nostalgic moments and sentimentalized portrayals of American life. During his 84 years, he produced over 4000 original works which were beloved by a broad spectrum of the culture. These included 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post. In 1920, the Boy Scouts of America featured one of his paintings in its calendar, establishing a relationship he enjoyed for over fifty years. One year before his death in 1978, President Gerald Ford awarded him with the Medal of Freedom.

Norman Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894 in New York City. At an early age, he knew he wanted to be an artist. His works were not always embraced by the critics who frequently dismissed him for not having real artistic merit. Rockwell’s reasons for painting were grounded in the world he hoped for. He once stated -“Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it.” In 1960, Rockwell produced one of the most famous self-portraits in American art.  A clearly modest man, he was reluctant to make himself the subject of a cover. The painting is regarded by many as a thoughtful portrait of the artist’s three selves: the painter, the subject model of himself as reflected by a mirror, and the image he created on the canvas. It has become known as “The Triple Self-Portrait.” In describing this work, Rockwell explained why his glasses appear opaque. “I had to show that my glasses were fogged, and that I couldn’t actually see what I looked like — a homely, lanky fellow — and therefore, I could stretch the truth just a bit and paint myself looking more suave and debonair than I actually am.”

Rockwell’s comment reminds me of that well-known passage from Paul as he writes to the Church at Corinth: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  It is true that God sees and knows us much more clearly than we sometimes know ourselves. In some ways, Rockwell was not so different than many who struggle with their own self-image. When Jesus told His disciples that He would soon be leaving them to be with the Father, they were confused and questioned Him, perhaps suffering a bit of an image crisis of their own.  Jesus stated: “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?” (John 14:7-9). Here, Jesus is not speaking of a physical image but rather that He and the Father are of the same substance.

Hebrews 1:3 says that “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” In the beginning – man was made in God’s image with the mental capacity to reason and choose, making us unique in His Creation. In that regard, we are a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom but unfortunately marred by rebellion. Today, we still bear the image of God, but we are also scarred by the sin of Mankind. Rockwell said – “I paint life as I would like it to be.” God did the same on His canvas of Creation. We are very much a part of the image He first imagined . . . only to be made perfect again through the sacrificial gift of grace provided by His Son.

REFLECTION: Are you able to separate your own self-perception from the sins of your past? How might you help someone who is struggling with their own self-image understand it is only through Christ alone that we can be made right before God and conform to the image that we were originally created to be?


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