God Is Not “Out There”

Incarnation: Week 1

God Is Not “Out There”
Sunday, January 10, 2016

I often say that incarnation is the Christian trump card. It is the overcoming of the gap between God and everything else. It is the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without incarnation, God remains separate from us and from creation. Because of incarnation, we can say, “God is with us!” In fact, God is in us, and in everything else that God created. We all have the divine DNA; everything bears the divine fingerprint, if the mystery of embodiment is true.

God, who is Love, incarnates as the universe beginning with the Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago. Then 2,000 years ago, God incarnates as Jesus of Nazareth, when humanity was ready for what Martin Buber would call the “I-Thou” relationship and to personally comprehend that this mystery could be met, engaged with, and even loved. So matter and spirit have always been one, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Ephesians 1:3-10; Colossians 1:15-20).

It is crucial that we understand the importance of incarnation. This became so clear to me in a chance encounter with a recluse near the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, when I did a retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage in 1985. A recluse is a hermit’s hermit. Recluses come into the community only for Christmas and Easter. The rest of the time, they stay in the forest alone with God and themselves.

I was walking down a little trail when I saw this recluse coming toward me. Not wanting to interfere, I bowed my head and moved to the side of the path, intending to walk past him. But as we neared each other, he said, “Richard!” That surprised me. He was supposed to be a recluse. How did he know I was there? Or who I was?

He said, “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. When you’re preaching, just tell the people one thing: God is not ‘out there’! God bless you.” And he abruptly continued down the path. Now I have just told you what he ordered me to do. God is not out there!

The belief that God is “out there” is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart. Our view of God as separate and distant has harmed our understandings of our sexuality; of our relationship to food, possessions, and money; and of our relationship to animals, nature, and our own incarnate selves. This loss is foundational as to why we live such distraught and divided lives. Jesus came precisely to put it all together for us and in us. He was saying, in effect, “To be human is good! The material and the physical can be trusted and enjoyed. This world is the hiding place of God and the revelation of God!”

The final stage of incarnation is resurrection! This is no exceptional miracle only done once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all embodiment. Now even the new physics tells us that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, and spirit or shared consciousness is the real thing. [1] Matter also seems to be eternal. We do say in the Creed that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” whereas many of us—still followers of Plato more than Jesus—only believe in the eternal nature of the soul.

Gateway to Silence:
God is not “out there.”

References:
[1] For more on quantum physics and incarnation, see Diarmuid O’Murchu, Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 2004).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 117-119.

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