Growing into Our Incarnation

Human Bodies: Week 1

Growing into Our Incarnation
Monday, April 2, 2018

Make ready for the Christ, Whose smile, like lightning,
Sets free the song of everlasting glory
That now sleeps, in your paper flesh, like dynamite.

—Thomas Merton [1]

When God gives of Godself, one of two things happens: either flesh is inspirited or spirit is enfleshed. It is really very clear. I am somewhat amazed that more have not recognized this simple pattern: God’s will is incarnation. And against all our expectations of divinity, it appears that for God, matter really matters.

This Creator of ours is patiently determined to put matter and spirit together, almost as if the one were not complete without the other. This Lord of life seems to desire a perfect but free unification between body and soul. So much so, in fact, that God appears to be willing to wait for the creatures to will and choose this unity themselves—or it remains unrealized. But if God did it any other way, the medium would not be the message: God never enforces or dominates, but only allures and seduces.

God apparently loves freedom as much as incarnation. This is the rub of time and history and our interminable groanings (see Romans 8:18-25). Jesus trusted God’s slow process of incarnation instead of demanding an immediate conclusion. The result was resurrection and the realization of eternal union between body and spirit, human and divine.

The reason we have trouble with the full incarnation in Jesus is probably because we have not been able to recognize and enjoy the incarnations everywhere and all the time. As poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

For Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces. [2]

Not even by ourselves will we honor the divine image. In the oft-quoted words of Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. . . . You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. [3]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “The Victory,” The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions: 1977), 115.

[2] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics: 1985), 51.

[3] Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles (Harper Collins: 1992), 190-191.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 5-6.

Image credit: The Banjo Lesson (detail) by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893. Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Deep knowing and presence do not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be open, awake, and present. —Richard Rohr

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