James Weldon Johnson was a writer, poet, and social advocate. He joined the NAACP in 1917 and later rose to leadership in the organization. Johnson is also famous for creating the Negro Spiritual called The Creation.
The song/poem by Johnson is a magnificent picture of the tenderness and creativity of God at every stage of creation and culminating in the creation of humanity. In Johnson’s words God was:
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image
Johnson would use a different word today, I think. Maybe mother or mama or oma. Nevertheless, one can see in Johnson’s words his intention to portray the love and tenderness of God, like a new mother cradling her newborn. I think Johnson correctly understood the lengths to which God goes to care for God’s creation.
Paul uses a different idea in Ephesians 2:10 where he calls humankind God’s poiema – God’s work. This calls to mind James Weldon Johnson’s picture of God “toiling over a lump of clay till he shaped it in his own image.”
The idea of God “kneeled down” over us is stunning. Personally, intimately involved is this God. Invested in the way a human mother would be with her own child. Awestruck by the beauty of this new creation and imagining how this child would develop.
The idea is also stunning in the way that it wakes us up and makes us see this God made us to look like him. A metaphor to describe the DNA we carry within us – DNA to be compassionate, wise, generous, loving, and gracious.
Yet, how much we disappoint God when we elect to go a different direction. To forget our heritage as children that look like God. When we say to God, “I have no desire to look like you,” or “I am too busy to spend time with you.”
James Weldon Johnson’s gorgeous picture of God “kneeled over us” is a wonderful image to carry in our hearts, keeping us true to the heritage into which we are born.