Incarnation: Week 1
The Face of the Other
Friday, January 15, 2016
It was probably St. Francis who first brought attention to the humanity of Jesus. Paintings of Jesus, prior to the life of St. Francis, largely emphasized Jesus’ divinity, as they still do in most Eastern icons. Francis is said to have created the first live nativity. Before the thirteenth century, Christmas was no big deal. The emphasis was entirely on the high holy days of Easter, as it seems it should be. But for Francis, incarnation was already redemption. For God to become a human being among the poor, born in a stable among the animals, meant that it’s good to be a human being, that flesh is good, and that the world is good—in its most simple and humble forms.
In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart. God became someone we could love. While God can be described as a moral force, as consciousness, and as high vibrational energy, the truth is, we don’t (or can’t?) fall in love with abstractions. So God became a person “that we could hear, see with our eyes, look at, and touch with our hands” (1 John 1:1). The brilliant Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas says the only thing that really converts people is “the face of the other.” He develops this at great length and with great persuasion. When the face of the other (especially the suffering face) is received and empathized with, it leads to transformation of our whole being. It creates a moral demand on our heart that is far more compelling than the Ten Commandments. Just giving people commandments on tablets of stone doesn’t change the heart. It may steel the will, but it doesn’t soften the heart like an I-Thou encounter can. So many Christian mystics talk about seeing the divine face or falling in love with the face of Jesus. There is no doubt that was the experience of Francis and Clare. I think that’s why Clare uses the word “mirroring” so often. We are mirrored not by concepts, but by faces delighting in us, giving us the face we can’t give to ourselves. It is the gaze that does us in!
Jesus taught us what God is like through his words, his actions, his very being, making it clear that “God is love” (I John 4:8). If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and is on our side. 
Gateway to Silence:
God is not “out there.”
 This is the second of seven themes that form the basis of the Living School curriculum and CAC’s annual CONSPIRE conferences. Learn more at cac.org/living-school/program-details/lineage-and-themes/.
Adapted from Richard Rohr Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), disc 3 (CD, MP3 download).