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Theme:
Incarnation

Incarnation

Saturday, December 26, 2020
Summary: Sunday, December 20—Friday, December 25, 2020

We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us. (Sunday)

Christianity’s true and unique story line has always been incarnation. That means that the spirit nature of reality (the spiritual, the immaterial, the formless) and the material nature of reality (the physical, that which we can see and touch) are one. (Monday)

Christianity believes that God and humanity truly coexist in the same body, in the same place! (Tuesday)

Sophia is the eros of God become one with all creation, the love of God that longs for incarnation from before the beginning. She is the co-creativity of God, always inviting, never compelling. —Christopher Pramuk (Wednesday)

The symbol of Christmas—what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. —Howard Thurman (Thursday)

How might we experience the Christ born in us today, “utterly real . . . transformed . . . and radiant in His light”? (Friday)

 

Practice: Storydancing

I asked a theologian friend “What comes to your mind when I say the word ‘incarnation’?” Without hesitating, he responded, “Dance.” Dance is an art that allows all of our body to express itself beyond boundaries. Sacred dance, ritual dance, and many other forms of dance allow individuals and communities to experience the grace and joy of being incarnated into a body. You don’t have to be trained or even skillful to experience this; you simply have to be willing to move beyond your comfort zone. Today’s practice invites you to explore telling your story through movement. Trauma therapist Dr. Jamie Marich writes:

A dynamic practice can be simply challenging yourself to look deeply into your heart and tell your story to the dance floor, a process I’ve come to call storydancing. This can be the story of your whole life or the story of what you’re living through right now. . . . You may feel called to use this practice for the purpose of transformation and manifestation, allowing the dance to help create a new ending, or usher in a new chapter. . . .

Perhaps you’ve already explored dancing with your breath, your heart, your mind, your body, and your concept of spirit. Notice what’s happening within you. I now invite you to allow all the elements to work together and create your story.

  • Tell your story to the earth below you, the space around you.
  • Your space is your canvas, your body is the paintbrush. Allow your story to be
    created in your space. The colors and the elements are being sent to you right now through your breath, through your spirit.
  • Paint your story, create your story, dance your story in this space!
  • You have options—it may feel organic to simply dance the story up to this present moment. If you believe that old story lines prevent you from experiencing the joy of the present moment, perhaps just notice those different story lines that pop up as you dance. Practice the challenge of noticing them, letting them go, and then returning to the present moment. If you feel inspired to move your story from this present moment and let the dance help you create a desired ending or a new, desired chapter in the journey, keep going with that process.

Dancing the element of story in personal practice is much like writing a journal, songwriting, or creating visual art. As many musicians and artists will tell you, we often create just for ourselves, for practice, for exploration, even if we never share the finished product. So, think about your dancing practice as a way to dance what you might normally write in your journal.

Reference:
Jamie Marich, PhD., Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing & Transformation (Skylights Paths Publishing: 2016), 114‒115, 117.

For Further Study:
Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold (Orbis Books: 2017).

Ronald Rolheiser and Richard Rohr, Adult Christianity and How to Get There (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018).

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 Books: 2019).

Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019).

Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations (Friends United Press: 1985, ©1973).

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
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Incarnation

Christ Born in Us
Friday, December 25, 2020
Christmas Day

What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian

Symeon the New Theologian (949‒1022) was a Byzantine Christian monk and mystic revered to this day by Eastern Christians. Symeon believed humans had the capacity to experience God’s presence directly. He visualized this union happening within the “force field” of the Body of Christ. This cosmic embodiment is created both by God’s grace and our response.

Symeon’s “Hymn 15” from his collected Hymns of Divine Love beautifully names the divine union that God is forever inviting us toward. These mystical lines honestly say it all for me and move me to an embodied knowing, to a living force field wherein we will know mystical union on even the cellular level.

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous?—Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body. [1]

For many of us, our Christmas celebrations will be a little (or a lot) smaller, but I hope no less joyful. I invite you to contemplate the wonder of Symeon’s words. How might we experience the Christ born in us today, “utterly real . . . transformed . . . radiant in His light”?

References:
[1] Symeon the New Theologian, “Hymn 15,” from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, ed. Stephen Mitchell (Harper Perennial: 1993), 38–39.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 219–220.

Epigraph: Symeon the New Theologian, “Hymn 1.”

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
Read Full Entry

Incarnation

The Symbols of Christmas
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Christmas Eve

People often use the word “magical” to describe their Christmas memories from childhood. I hope that was your experience. I have to confess that I am fortunate enough to have some rather “mystical” Christmas memories, too. Two of my earliest God-experiences took place around Christmas time, the first when I was about five years old. It was evening and all of my family was in the kitchen with the lights on. It was bright in there, but I was in the living room where it was dark with just the Christmas tree lit. I had the sense that the world was good, I was good, and I was part of the good world; and I just wanted to stay there. I remember feeling very special, very chosen, very beloved, and it was my secret. The family in the kitchen didn’t know what I was knowing. I have to laugh now to see how my ego was involved, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a true and holy experience. God meets us where we are, even as a five-year-old.

The second experience happened when I was in first or second grade. I was in church and had gone up to look at the Nativity scene on Epiphany when the three kings and their camels finally arrived to see Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I remember feeling how lucky I was to live in this world where it all makes sense and it’s all good. It is all focused on the birth of this little baby.

Looking back, it’s no wonder that the incarnation became the heart of my understanding of the Gospel. In both those moments, at the Christmas tree and the Christmas crib, it was like I’d been taken over to another world, the world as it’s meant to be, where the foundation is love and God is in everything. It was like I saw the “real world” inside of which everybody is truly living, but they simply don’t know it!

Howard Thurman (1900–1981), the Black theologian and mystic, also saw great power in the symbol of Christmas. For Thurman, the “Mood of Christmas” was not merely in the Christ Child, but in what Christmas is offering us across the entire sweep of creation and time. He writes:

The symbol of Christmas—what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother’s nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil. [1]

I pray that this Christmas, we are each gifted with some magical or mystical experience, reminding us that we are beloved, part of a good world, stirring with the “newness of life.”

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations (Friends United Press: 1973, 1985), 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 17‒18.

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
Read Full Entry

Incarnation

An Essential Presence
Wednesday, December 23, 2020

When we use the language of incarnation, we probably first think of Jesus, and then perhaps of all the rest of creation. No incarnation can take place, however, without a very real feminine presence and polarity. We’ve forgotten that reality for far too long, which is why we are witnessing such an immense longing for relational, mutually empowering feminine qualities at every level of our society. Left primarily in the hands of men for most of history, our politics, our economics, our psyches, our cultures, our patterns of leadership, and our theologies have all become far too warlike, competitive, individualistic, mechanistic, and non-contemplative. A simple return to the Hebrew Scriptures brings us in touch with the feminine, co-creative Spirit of God, also called Sophia (Greek for Wisdom).

When God fixed the foundations of earth, then was I [Sophia] beside God as artisan; I was God’s delight day by day, playing before God all the while, playing over the whole of God’s earth. (Proverbs 8:29–31)

As scholar Christopher Pramuk writes, “Sophia is the eros of God become one with all creation, the love in God that longs for incarnation from before the beginning. She is the co-creativity of God, always inviting, never compelling, coming to birth in us when we say yes to [what Thomas Merton calls] “the dawning of divine light in the stillness of our hearts.” [1] [2]

My friend Mirabai Starr writes about Sophia’s role in incarnation, as taught by the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179):

Hildegard of Bingen . . . showed [Mother Earth] to us through the church-approved lens of Mother Mary and Mother Sophia. . . . According to Hildegard, it is Mary who spins earthly matter into being and weaves it together with the heavens so that all of creation is interpenetrated with the sacred. In Hildegard’s theology, Mary merges with Sophia, Mother Wisdom, who dips one wing to earth while the other soars to heaven and, in her ecstatic flight, quickens life. . . .

Hildegard was smitten with the creator and enamored by every element of creation. Her mysticism is intimate—erotic, even. She coined the term viriditas to evoke the lush, extravagant, moist, and verdant quality of the Divine, manifesting as the “greening power” that permeates all that is [i.e., the spirit within all matter]. This life-giving energy is imbued with a distinctly feminine quality.

The earth is at the same time mother,
she is mother of all that is natural,
mother of all that is human.
She is the mother of all,
for contained in her are the seeds of all. [3]

For Hildegard, the Son may be the incarnation of the Holy One, but the Mother forms the very stuff from which the Word of God issues forth into the world. The mystical heart of all the world’s religions affirms the profoundly feminine understanding of panentheism: that is, all the particles of the universe are infused with the substance of the Divine; God both interpenetrates the universe and is greater than all that is. [4]

References:
[1] Christopher Pramuk, At Play in Creation: Merton’s Awakening to the Feminine Divine (Liturgical Press: 2015), 5–6.

[2] Thomas Merton, letter to Abdul Aziz (January 30, 1961), The Hidden Ground of Love: The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious Experience and Social Concerns, ed. William H. Shannon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1985), 46.

[3] Hildegard of Bingen, Liber Vitae Meritorum (The Book of the Rewards of Life), 4.20. This version is from Gabriele Uhlein, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen (Bear & Company: 1982), 58.

[4] Mirabai Starr, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics (Sounds True: 2019), 151–152.

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
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Incarnation

Manifesting the Great I AM
Tuesday, December 22, 2020

For all practical purposes, the dualistic mind is not able to accept the orthodox teaching that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine at the same time. Our dualistic minds need to choose one or the other, with the result that they understand Jesus as only divine and humans as only human, despite all scriptural and mystical affirmations to the contrary. The overcoming of this divide was the whole point of the incarnation of God in Christ, and precisely what we celebrate on Christmas.

The manifestation of the Great I AM in Jesus was the momentous Christian epiphany. It became so thrilling to early Christians that they forgot the continued need to balance Jesus’ newly discovered divinity with his personally and even more strongly proclaimed humanity. Remember, virtually Jesus’ only form of self-reference—eighty-seven times among the four Gospels—was ben ’adam, a son of the human one. Jesus is emphasizing “I am of you”—a mortal and human!

Our preoccupation with Jesus’ divinity did not allow us to hear about his own clearly emphasized humanity. In practice, most Christians have been guilty of thinking of Jesus as having only a divine nature, which misses and avoids the major point he came to bring. We have not been able to balance humanity and divinity in Jesus, which probably reflects why we are unable to put it together in ourselves. We did not have the proper software for the task. Jesus is the archetypal model for all of us.

Theism believes there is a God. Christianity believes that God and humanity truly coexist in the same body, in the same place! These are two utterly different proclamations about the nature of the universe. In my experience, most Christians are very good theists who just happen to have named their god Jesus.

With dualistic minds it is always one or the other—it can never be both. The result is that we still think of ourselves as mere humans trying desperately to become “spiritual.” The Christian revelation was precisely that we are already spiritual (“in God”), and our difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human. Jesus came to model the full integration for us (see 1 Corinthians 15:47–49). He told us, in effect, that divinity looked just like him—while he looked ordinarily human to everybody!

It is the contemplative, nondual mind that allows us to say yes to the infinite mystery of Jesus and the infinite mystery that we are to ourselves. They are finally the same mystery.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 68–70.

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
Read Full Entry

Incarnation

The Trajectory of Incarnation
Monday, December 21, 2020

Christianity’s true and unique story line has always been incarnation. That means that the spirit nature of reality (the spiritual, the immaterial, the formless) and the material nature of reality (the physical, that which we can see and touch) are one. They have always been one, ever since the Big Bang took place 13.7 billion years ago. The incarnation did not just happen when Jesus was born, although that is when we became aware of the human incarnation of God in Jesus. It seemingly took until 2,000 years ago for humanity to be ready for what Martin Buber (1878‒1965) called an I/Thou relationship with God. But matter and spirit have been one since “the beginning,” ever since God decided to manifest himself/herself as creation.

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness and holiness. The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis of Assisi and his female companion, Clare, somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) took the intuition of Francis and made it into a philosophy. He said that Christ was not Plan B; God did not plan to remain absent until Adam and Eve ate that darn apple and Jesus had to come save us. Rather, Duns Scotus said that Christ was Plan A from the very beginning, the very first idea in the mind of God, as it were (John 1: 1–4). [1] God, the formless, eternal, and timeless One essentially said I am going to manifest who I am in what we now call physicality, materiality, or the universe.

This means that everything you have ever seen with your physical eyes is the mystery of incarnation. The Christian word we give to that is the Christ, which comes from the word Messiah, or the Anointed One, used by Jewish people. The Anointed One is the one who would come to reveal what God is doing, everywhere and all the time. For Christians, that became manifested in Jesus of Nazareth. Walter Brueggemann, my favorite scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures, would call this “the scandal of particularity.” [2] God is in a vulnerable newborn baby in a feeding trough. We need to see the mystery of incarnation in one ordinary concrete moment, and struggle with, fight, resist, and fall in love with it there. What is true in one particular place finally universalizes and ends up being true everywhere.

References:
[1] This idea is often called the thesis on the absolute primacy of Jesus Christ. Duns Scotus used Paul’s texts in Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15–20, and Ephesians 1:3–10 and 2:20 to support his theology.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Augsburg Publishing House: 1984), 162.

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

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

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
Read Full Entry

Incarnation

Birth Is Just the Beginning
Sunday, December 20, 2020

We must move beyond a merely sentimental understanding of Christmas as “waiting for the baby Jesus” to an adult and communal appreciation of the message of the incarnation of God in Christ. We Franciscans have always believed that the incarnation was already the redemption, because in Jesus’ birth God was saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side. 

Jesus identified his own mission with what he called the coming “reign of God.” We have often settled instead for the sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality, or any assent to the actual teachings of Jesus. Too much sentimentality, or juicing up of our emotions, can be a substitute for an actual relationship, as we also see in our human relationships. When we are so infatuated with the “sweetness” or “perfection” of another, we easily “fall” out of love at the first sign of their humanity. Let’s not let that happen with the infinitely compelling person of Jesus!

The celebration of Christmas is not merely a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born. It is much more an asking for history to be born! Creation groans in its birth pains, waiting for our participation with God in its renewal (see Romans 8:20–23). We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us. One even wonders what kind of mind would want to keep Jesus a baby. Maybe only one that is content with “baby Christianity.”

Any spirituality that makes too much of the baby Jesus is perhaps not yet ready for “prime-time” life. God clearly wants friends and partners to be images of divinity, if we are to believe the biblical texts. God, it seems, wants mature religion and a thoughtful, free response from us. God loves us in partnership, with mutual give and take, and we eventually become the God that we love. 

The Christ we are asking and waiting for includes our own full birth and the further birth of history and creation. It is to this adult and Cosmic Christ that we can say, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) with a whole new understanding and a deliberate passion. This makes our entire lives, and the life of the church, one huge “advent.”

The Christ includes the whole sweep of creation and history joined with him—and each of us, too. This is the Universal (or Cosmic) Christ. [1] We ourselves are members of the Body of Christ and the Universal Christ, even though we are not the historical Jesus. So we very rightly believe in “Jesus Christ,” and both words are essential.

References:
[1] For a deeper exploration of the concept of the Universal or Cosmic Christ, see Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 1–2, 8–10.

Image credit: The Virgin and Child with Archangels, Scenes from the Life of Christ, and Saints (detail), early 17th century (Early Gondarine), Tigray Kifle Håger, Ethiopia, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one,
received not in essence but by participation.
Just as if you lit a flame from a flame,
it is the whole flame you receive.
—Symeon the New Theologian
Read Full Entry

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
Read Full Entry
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