The First Incarnation (Richard Rohr)

The first Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. That is just the moment when it became human and personal, and many people began to take divine embodiment as a serious possibility. The initial Incarnation actually happened around 14 billion years ago with “The Big Bang.” That is what we now call the moment when God decided to materialize and self-expose, at least in this universe. The first “idea” in the mind of God was to make Divine Formlessness into physical form, so that everything visible is a further revelation of what has been going on secretly inside of God from all eternity. Love always outpours! God spoke the Eternal Blueprint/Idea called Christ, “and so it was!” (Genesis 1:9).

Two thousand years ago marks the Incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the Incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast” according to the Genesis creation story (1:3-25). This is the “Cosmic Christ” through which God has “let us know the mystery of God’s purpose, the hidden plan made from the beginning in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10). Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose. Christ is our word for what Jesus came to personally reveal and validate—which is true all the time and everywhere.

Most of Christian history has heard little or nothing about this timeless mystery, and we settled for a small tribal god instead. We put Jesus in competition with other religions instead of allowing him to ground the universal search for God in the material world itself, in nature, cosmos, and history—from the very beginnings of time. In other words, all creatures were capable of knowing and loving God long before the world religions formalized their doctrines and rituals (see Romans 1:20). Were the first millennia of human beings (San or Bushmen, Mayans, Celts, Aboriginals, and on and on) just trial runs and throwaways for a very inefficient God? That cannot be! God did not just start talking and loving 2,000 years ago. Infinite Love would never operate that way. “The Christ Mystery” proclaims that there is universal and equal access to God for all who have ever wanted love and union since the primal birth of humanity. In simple words, Stone Age people already had access to God!

As Colossians puts it: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” (1:15); Christ is the one glorious icon that names and reveals the entire arc of history. “The fullness is founded in Christ . . . everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Colossians 1:19-20). It gets better: God has never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating the Christ, as this one mystery continues to unfold and evolve in time (see Romans 8:19-25). All of us are meant to be “the second coming of Christ,” but how can we recognize or honor this without recognizing both the first (creation) and the second (Jesus) Incarnations? (See John 1:9-11 and note the active participle verb: The Light was coming into the world. We now call that evolution.)

New Images Help Us See New Realities

As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “You must preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” This demands no “belief” or theology whatsoever, but only eyes wide open.

.. In the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried, there is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here! There are artists who inherently understand incarnation.

Richard Rohr: Body and Soul

“Just remember, on the practical level, the Christian Church was much more influenced by Plato than it was by Jesus.” He left us laughing but also stunned and sad, because four years of honest church history had told us how true this actually was.

.. For Plato, body and soul were incompatible enemies; matter and spirit were at deep odds with one another. But for Jesus, there is no animosity between body and soul. In fact, this is the heart of Jesus’ healing message and of his incarnation itself. Jesus, in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), was fully human, even as he was fully divine, with both body and spirit operating as one. Jesus even returned to the “flesh” after the Resurrection; so, flesh cannot be bad, as it is the ongoing hiding place of God.

.. In the Apostles’ Creed, which goes back to the second century, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” I want to first point out what it is not saying and yet what most people hear. The creed does not say we believe in the resurrection of the spirit or the soul! Of course it doesn’t, because the soul cannot die. We are asserting that human embodiment has an eternal character to it.

.. Christianity makes a daring and broad affirmation: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heavens and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from the heavens” to “live among us” (Revelation 21:1-3). This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation.

.. Many Christians falsely assumed that if they could “die” to their body, their spirit would for some reason miraculously arise. Often the opposite was the case. After centuries of body rejection, and the lack of any positive body theology, the West is now trapped in substance addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and an obsession with appearance and preserving these bodies.

.. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction, and the fervor for gyms and salons makes one think these are the new cathedrals of worship. The body is rightly reasserting its goodness and importance. Can’t we somehow seek both body and spirit together?

When Christianity is in any way anti-body, it is not authentic Christianity. The incarnation tells us that body and spirit must fully operate and be respected as one. Yes, Fr. Larry, our Platonic Christianity is now feeling the backlash against our one-sided teaching.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Growing into Our Incarnation

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.

.. 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]

Richard Rohr: The Scandal of the Particular

Theologians call the principle of concrete-to-universal knowing “the scandal of particularity.” John Duns Scotus asserted that God only created particulars and individuals, a quality he named “thisness” (haecceity). Thisness grounds the principle of incarnation in the concrete and the specific. You can’t really love universals. It’s hard to love concepts, forces, or ideas. Ideology is just the ego wrapping itself around such abstractions.

Love—God incarnate—always begins with particulars: this woman, this dog, this beetle, this Moses, this Virgin Mary, this Jesus of Nazareth. It is the individual and the concrete that opens the heart space to an I-Thou encounter. Without it there is no true devotion or faith, but only argumentative theories.

Why is “thisness” so good and important? To begin with, such thinking was a breakthrough in the hierarchical Middle Ages, when the top and the center were considered most important. Any writing about a commoner’s life was very rare at that time. The concept of the individual apart from the group had not yet been born, despite Jesus’ talk of leaving the ninety-nine to search for the one (Luke 15:4). Kings and queens, the papacy, the office of the bishop, and nationhood were far more important than anything small, local, immediate, concrete, or specific. “My king is better than your king” and “my religion is the only true one” substituted for personal transformation or the sense that God was engaged with the individual and ordinary soul (which is precisely mysticism). The corporate, collective identity was preferred to a person’s own soul. Without truly seeing and valuing individual lives, war and violence become almost inevitable. Unless we can see and honor “thisness,” religion and politics are up in the head, and the heart and body will remain untouched.

Duns Scotus fully and happily live inside the communal Body of Christ, while still preserving and honoring the importance of the individual. He is an amazing example of bridging the gap. I find it most rare in our postmodern society on both the Left and the Right. He held onto the individual end of the continuum so strongly (almost unheard of in the 13th century) that some churchmen have accused him of actually fathering Western individualism! In truth, Duns Scotus held the entire continuum together—both part and whole—with such refined consciousness that he was very early dubbed “The Subtle Doctor” of the Church. We could use such subtlety today.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Incarnation

Incarnation 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). [1] Incarnation refers to the synthesis of matter and spirit. 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” approximately 14 billion years ago, which means our 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 we can only realize this after much longing and desiring

.. The dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular is precisely what Jesus came to reveal as untrue and incomplete. Jesus came to model 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). And—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!

.. Now even physics tells us 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. [2]

.. Matter also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, the 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 only the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and move toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30).

Richard Rohr Meditation: Divine DNA

 I am not saying that I am the exact same as God, but I am saying God’s Spirit objectively resides in me and in you! The divine DNA is in everyone and everything God has created “from the beginning” (read Ephesians 1:3-6 as if for the first time). As humans, we are graced with the capacity to realize this, fully enjoy it, and draw mightily from it. You might say this is what characterizes an authentic Christian.

If we continue to focus on our unworthiness and original sin as our foundation, we will continue to act accordingly. If Christians emphasize retribution and judgment, we will only contribute to more violence and division. We become what we believe ourselves to be.

Yes, I know I am weak and objectively unworthy of God’s mercy. But I simultaneously know that I am totally worthy—and my worthiness has nothing to do with me! When looking at me, the Creator sees God’s beloved child. God cannot not see Christ in me . . . as the unique incarnation called “me.”

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Note that it does not just say “Jesus,” but “flesh.” Let’s make it quite specific and practical: When you get up in the morning, ask yourself, “What aspect of God, what aspect of Love, am I being called to incarnate in the world today? How can I be Jesus today?”