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Theme:
Incarnation

Incarnation

Summary: Sunday, December 22—Friday, December 28, 2019

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. (Sunday)

Divine incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and in all creatures, but each in a unique way. (Monday)

Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. We’re in fact welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history. (Tuesday)

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . . We are all meant to be mothers of God. —Matthew Fox, paraphrasing Meister Eckhart (Wednesday)

An incarnational worldview is the only way we can reconcile our inner worlds with the outer one, unity with diversity, physical with spiritual, individual with corporate, and divine with human. (Thursday)

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. —Beatrice Bruteau (Friday)

 

Practice: The Meaning of Life

Michael Lerner is an American rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, a political activist, and the editor of Tikkun, a Jewish interfaith magazine. Rabbi Lerner has shared my work with his audiences, noting the message of love and justice that flows through all the Abrahamic faiths and touches on all the great religious and spiritual traditions. In today’s practice, Rabbi Lerner imagines an education for the future where students would learn to engage in studies that would prepare them for spiritual transformation. In alignment with our consideration of “incarnation,” one of the topics students would explore is “Meaning of Life.” Lerner explains:

In this stream, students would learn about the various ways people have sought to discover a framework of meaning for life. Students would study art and poetry, music and dance, world literature and philosophy, religions and forms of spirituality. They would be encouraged to consider their own paths for finding meaning, and to develop rituals, poetry, music, and dance that fit the lives they are shaping for themselves or as part of ongoing communities of meaning.

Students would also be exposed to the range of human suffering, projects and strategies for ameliorating or reducing suffering, and the range of responses and attempts to give meaning to the suffering and the attempts to be with suffering without giving it any larger meaning. They would also be exposed to the ways people have sought to find meaning through community action, mutual support, and love. Many students will have already had their own exposure to suffering in their families and communities, but the school situation will give them a different a take: an opportunity to reflect on suffering and its meaning. So, too, students will explore experiences of unity, mystical luminosity and joy that are as much dimensions of life as suffering and cruelty.

Finally, students would be encouraged to prepare of a rite of passage that they, together with parents and teachers as advisors, devised for themselves: a kind of “hero’s quest” in which they were initiated into the realities of some aspect of adult life. Adapting from suggestions made by [Zen Roshi] Joan Halifax, I suggest that such a rite of passage would involve going through a process that would include:

  1. Plunging into some (carefully discerned) arena of activity
  2. Allowing oneself to separate from familiar paths and ways of coping so that one can “not know”
  3. Allowing oneself to experience confusion, fear, and disorientation without jumping into denial or easy resolution of conflict
  4. Healing oneself and incorporating into one’s being the knowledge learned as part of this process
  5. Ending with a firm determination to liberate oneself and the world from suffering.

[While] it could be argued that many students have already gone through stages “1” through “3,” few get to “4” or “5.” Commitment to healing oneself and making a commitment to liberation for self, others, and the world is an essential part of spiritual transformation. [1]

Reference:
[1] Michael Lerner, Spirit Matters (Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.: 2002), 264-265.

For Further Study:
Beatrice Bruteau, God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 2016)

Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations (New World Library: 2011)

Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart (Inner Traditions: 2000)

Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014)

Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

Divine Creativity
Friday, December 27, 2019

Though I did not have the privilege of meeting her personally, Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) was a brilliant scholar with a wide-ranging interest in mathematics, religion, science, and philosophy. Through her writing and relationships, she influenced the study of contemplative practice and evolutionary consciousness in significant ways. Enjoy this glimpse into her thoughts on incarnation:

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But Christ is only one Person, the divine Person called “the Word.” . . . What would seem to be the [opposites] of Being are held together in the intimate union of a single Person. Without ceasing to be God, the Word becomes human. And without ceasing to be incarnate as a human being, this Person is divine.

It seems impossible, but this is what Christians claim we believe. . . . Indeed, we could never have proposed such a thought to ourselves if we had not sensed its reality in ourselves. We do not pretend to understand the Incarnation in an analytical abstract way. We rather understand it in an experiential way. We know what it means because we resonate with it in our own being. Whatever meaning it has for us comes from the deepest level of our sense of our own reality. . . .

[I want to pause here for just a moment to celebrate what Bruteau is saying: What is true in Jesus is true in us! We never could have claimed this intellectually if we did not sense it intuitively.]

In the case of the cosmos, we can say that God as Creator is incarnate as self-creating universe, including self-creating creatures within that universe, such as, for instance, ourselves as human beings. [Or, as I like to say, God creates things that create themselves.] Creativity itself is what’s evolving in the cosmos, and . . . we are in a position to realize ourselves as incarnate divine creativity. This has two effects. It makes the whole thing intensely meaningful. . . . We are part of this, creative contributors to this. And this is the other effect: we bear some responsibility. We have to take our part in the work. We, for instance, are now in a position to do something about all the suffering. . . . We are agents within the system and can have causal effects on other parts of the system. We have intelligence, we have empathy and capacity to feel for others and to care about them, we even have insight into the Ground [or Spirit] present in every being and calling for an appropriate form of absolute respect.

Because of our inherent dignity as children of God, we are empowered and called, like Jesus was, to create a more loving and compassionate world. Responding to this divine invitation might be the ultimate gift we could offer back to God this Christmas season.

References:
Beatrice Bruteau, God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997, 2016), 37, 178.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

Inspiriting the World
Thursday, December 26, 2019

What I am calling an incarnational worldview is the profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally “every thing” and “every one.” It is the key to mental and spiritual health as well as to a kind of basic contentment and happiness. An incarnational worldview is the only way we can reconcile our inner worlds with the outer one, unity with diversity, physical with spiritual, individual with corporate, and divine with human.

Every time you take in a breath, you are repeating the pattern of taking spirit into matter, and thus repeating the first creation of Adam. And every time you breathe out, you are repeating the pattern of returning spirit to the material universe. In a way, every exhalation is a “little dying” as you pay the price of inspiriting the world. Your simple breathing models your entire vocation as a human being. Like Christ, you are an incarnation of matter and spirit operating as one. This, more than anything we believe or accomplish, is how all of us continue the mystery of incarnation in space and time—either knowingly and joyfully or not.

As the theologian St. Maximus the Confessor put it, “God made all beings to this end, to [enjoy the same union] of humanity and divinity that was united in Christ.” [1] Later, St. Gregory Palamas made it even more specific: “The transformation of our human nature, its deification and transfiguration—were these not accomplished in Christ from the start, from the moment in which He assumed our nature?” [2] These kinds of jewels are found much more in the writings of the Eastern church and its Fathers. St. Athanasius “the Father of Orthodoxy” put it this way: “God [in Christ] became the bearer of flesh [for a time] in order that [humanity] might become the bearer of Spirit forever.” [3] This was the Great Exchange. Jesus was meant to be the guarantee that divinity can indeed reside within humanity, which is always our great doubt and denial. And once we recognize that as possible, then most of our problems are already solved. Resurrection of both persons and planets becomes a foregone conclusion! What that exactly means, of course, I cannot possibly know (1 Corinthians 2:9), but our faith invites us to trust in it.

Simply put, if death is not possible for the Christ, then it is not possible for anything that “shares in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). God is by definition eternal, and God is Love (1 John 4:16), which is also eternal (1 Corinthians 13:13), and this same Love has been planted in our hearts (Romans 5:5, 8:9) by the Spirit dwelling within us. Such fully Implanted Love cannot help but evolve and prove victorious, and Christianity’s word for that final victory is “resurrection.”

References:
[1] Maximus the Confessor (580–662), Quaestiones ad Thalassium, 60.3. See St. Maximos the Confessor, On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios, trans. Maximos Constas (Catholic University of America Press: 2018), 428-429.

[2] Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), The Uncreated Glory, 15. See The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle (Paulist Press: 1983), 76.

[3] Athanasius (298–373), On the Incarnation, 8. See The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Text and Commentary, Olivier Clément (New City Press: 1995), 263.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 18, 99, 178-180.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

“Mothering” God
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Christmas, Feast of the Incarnation

Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says, “What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.” We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us. —Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) [1]

You might be a little surprised to hear a celibate medieval friar make such a shocking statement about God giving birth, but his question is a good one for Christians to grapple with. Matthew Fox, a theologian and a personal friend, gives us a more contemporary version of Eckhart’s words and offers this commentary:

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . . We are all meant to be mothers of God.

With typical bluntness, Eckhart seems to be asking us to reconsider Christmas. For Eckhart, Christmas is not just about celebrating the birth of Jesus as the son of God; it loses meaning if it doesn’t also celebrate our ongoing birth as [children] of God. Moreover, Mary is not unique. We are all meant to be “other Marys,” or mothers of God. We all birth the Christ in our work and in our being and personhood. This teaching makes for a very unsentimental Christmas but one filled with responsibility. [2]

Responsibility, yes, but also, I might add, joy and possibility. What a privilege it is to be asked by God to manifest, or “incarnate,” God’s very presence on this earth! The full and participatory meaning of Christmas is that this one universal mystery of divine incarnation is also intended for us and continuing in us! It is not just about trusting the truth of the body of Jesus but trusting its extension through the ongoing Body of Christ—which is even an even bigger act of faith, hope, and charity and which alone has the power to change history, society, and all relationships.

That is so much to contemplate, and we have so much to enjoy and experience on this day, I’d like to just stop at that!

References:
[1] Meister Eckhart, Dum Medium Silentium, Sermon on Wisdom 18:14. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed., Maurice O’C. Walshe (Crossroad: 2009), 29. Meister Eckhart also reflects on God and Mary as birthing Christ in Mandatum novum do vobis, Sermon on John 13:34. See Walshe, 427-430.

[2] Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations (New World Library: 2011), 148.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

Celebrating an Eternal Advent
Tuesday, December 24, 2019

In the first 1200 years of Christianity, the greatest feast was Easter with the high holy days of Holy Week leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But in the 13th century, a new person entered the scene: Francis of Assisi felt we didn’t need to wait for God to love us through the cross and resurrection. Francis intuited that the whole thing started with incarnate love, and he popularized what we now take for granted as Christmas, which for many became the greater Christian feast. The Franciscans popularized Christmas. Maybe their intuition was correct.

Francis realized that if God had become flesh—taken on materiality, physicality, humanity—then we didn’t have to wait for Good Friday and Easter to “solve the problem” of human sin; the problem was solved from the beginning. It makes sense that Christmas became the great celebratory feast of Christians because it basically says that it’s good to be human, it’s good to be on this earth, it’s good to be flesh, it’s good to have emotions. We don’t need to be ashamed of any of this. God loves matter and physicality.

With that insight, it’s no wonder Francis went wild over Christmas! (I do, too: my little house is filled with candles at Christmastime.) Francis believed that every tree should be decorated with lights to show their true status as God’s creations! And that’s exactly what we still do 800 years later.

Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened 2,000 years ago. In fact, we’re welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history.

And believe me, we do have to make room, because right now there is no room in the inn for such a mystery. We see things pretty much in their materiality, but we don’t see the light shining through. We don’t see the incarnate spirit that is hidden inside of everything material.

The early Eastern Church, which too few people in the United States and Western Europe are familiar with, made it very clear that the incarnation was a universal principle. Incarnation meant not just that God became Jesus; God said yes to the material universe. God said yes to physicality. Eastern Christianity understands the mystery of incarnation in the universal sense. So it is always Advent. God is forever coming into the world (see John 1:9).

We’re always waiting to see spirit revealing itself through matter. We’re always waiting for matter to become a new form in which spirit is revealed. Whenever that happens, we’re celebrating Christmas. The gifts of incarnation just keep coming. Perhaps this is enlightenment.

Reference:
Adapted from “An Advent Meditation with Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), https://vimeo.com/246331333.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

Like Knows Like
Monday, December 23, 2019

The official Franciscan motto is Deus Meus et Omnia—“My God and all things.” Once you recognize the Christ as the universal truth of matter and spirit working together as one, then everything is holy and nothing is excluded. Once you surrender to this Christ mystery, this divine incarnation in your oh-so-ordinary self and body, you begin to see it every other ordinary place, too. The principle is this: “Like knows like.” As St. Bonaventure (1217–1274), the philosophical interpreter of St. Francis, wrote: Christ is “the one whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” [1]

Regrettably, the history of almost every religion begins with one massive misperception: a fatal distinction between the sacred and the profane. Low-level religions put all their emphasis on creating exclusive sacred places, sacred times, and sacred actions. While I fully appreciate how this distinction helps us “pay attention” to the sacred, it unfortunately leaves the majority of life “un-sacred,” which is categorically untrue.

You don’t have to go to sacred places to pray or wait for holy days for good things to happen. You can pray always, and everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. “This is the day God has made memorable, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24). Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic. Trust me on this: The bad is never strong enough to counteract the good.

You can most easily learn this through some form of contemplative practice. In contemplation you learn to trust your Vital Center over all the passing snags and jerks of emotions and obsessive thinking. [2] Once you are anchored in such a strong and loving soul, which is also the Indwelling Spirit, you are no longer pulled to and fro with every passing feeling. You have achieved a peace that nothing else can give you and that no one can take from you (John 14:27).

Divine incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and surely all creatures in some way. Angels, animals, trees, water, and, yes, bread and wine seem to fully accept and enjoy their wondrous fate. Ironically, it is only our human freedom that gives us the ability to resist and deny our core identities by refusing to participate in the flow of life through games of negativity, exclusion, or unlove. We even do this to ourselves. If we read the Gospel texts carefully, we will see that the only people Jesus seems to “exclude” are the excluders themselves. Exclusion might be described as the core sin. Don’t waste any time rejecting, eliminating, or punishing anyone or anything else. We are all living en Christo, so everything belongs, including you. The only difference is the degree to which we surrender to this gift of gratuitous inclusion. The objective gift is called image (imago) and the subjective allowing is called likeness (similitudo). Together allowed and received, God’s image and likeness are our human holiness.

References:
[1] Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, 5.8, quoting Alan of Lille, Regulae Theologicae, reg. 7. See translation by Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 100.

[2] For more on how to move beyond emotional and mental addictions, see Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (New Harbinger Publications: 2007).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download;

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 10; and

“Franciscan Mysticism,” an unpublished talk (April 12, 2012).

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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Incarnation

Living “en Christo”
Sunday, December 22, 2019

Incarnation, the synthesis of matter and spirit, should be the primary and compelling message of Christianity. Through the Christ (en Christo), the seeming gap between God and everything else has been overcome “from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 9). Without some form of incarnation, God remains essentially separate from us and from all of creation. Without incarnation, it is not an enchanted universe but somehow an empty one.

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. This begins with the “Big Bang” nearly 13.8 billion years ago, which means our human notions of time are largely useless (see 2 Peter 3:8). Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. Matter and spirit have always been one, of course, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-31), but it seems we could only meet this presence in personal form after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions also recognized the sacred and even personal nature of all reality, as did my father St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) who spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” Incarnation was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.

Jesus came to reveal the dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular as untrue and incomplete. By his very existence, Jesus modeled for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love (see Ephesians 2:11-20). In Christ “you also are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). What an amazing realization that should shock and delight us!

You are the body of Christ; you are the incarnation, too. Augustine (354–430) said this already in the early fifth century. The sacrament, the bread, is only for the sake of the people, to transform the people, to let them know that they are what they eat. [1]

The final stage of incarnation is resurrection. This is no exceptional miracle only performed once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all divine embodiment. Now even physics suggests that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, a vital force, or what many call consciousness. In fact, I would say that spirit or shared consciousness is the ultimate, substantial, and real thing.

But matter itself also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, as scientists, astrophysicists, and biblical writers tell us (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1). In the Creed, Christians affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” not just the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and moving toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).

References:
[1] See Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272, “On the day of Pentecost to the Infantes, on the Sacrament.” Text available at https://stanselminstitute.org/files/Augustine,%20Sermon%20272.pdf.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 117-119;

Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 17.

Image credit: Flight into Egypt (detail), Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1923, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. —Richard Rohr
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