Christ is the eternal amalgam of matter and spirit as one. They hold and reveal one another. Wherever the human and the divine coexist, we have the Christ. Wherever the material and the spiritual coincide, we have the Christ. That includes the material world, the natural world, the animal world (including humans), and moves all the way to the elemental world, symbolized by bread and wine. The Eucharist just offers Christians the message in very condensed form so we can struggle with it in a specific and concrete way. We cannot think about such a universal truth logically; we can only slowly digest it! It is the spiritual version of healthy eating and nutrition.
Only gradually does the truth become believable. Finally, the Body of Christ is not out there or over there; it’s in you—it’s here and now and everywhere. The goal is then to move beyond yourself and recognize that what’s true in you is true in all others too. This was supposed to spark a political and social revolution. But Christians wasted centuries arguing about whether it could even be true and how it might be true. The orthodox insistence on “Real Presence” is merely taking the Mystery of Incarnation to its natural, full, and very good conclusion. Here I am quite happy to be traditionally Catholic. “There is only Christ, he is everything, and he is in everything,” Paul shouts (see Colossians 3:11). This is not pantheism; it is the much more subtle and subversive panentheism, or God in all things. (The only trouble with our Catholic belief in “transubstantiation” is that this explanation smacked of pantheism, whereas panentheism would have been much easier to defend and understand.)
You and I are living here in this ever-expanding universe. You and I are a part of this Christ Mystery without any choice on our part. We just are, whether we like it or not. It’s nothing we have to consciously believe, although that sure helps and seems to accelerate the enjoyment. Incarnation is first of all announcing an objective truth. If we consciously take this mystery as our worldview, it will create a deep contentment and inherent dignity in those who trust it. It gives us all significance and a sense of belonging as part of God’s Great Work—no exceptions. We are no longer alienated from God, others, or the universe. Everything belongs from the beginning. And it has always been pure, undeserved gift. The utter gratuity of it all is what we cannot comprehend!
Participating in Christ allows me to know that I don’t matter at all, and yet I matter intensely—at the same time! That’s the ultimate therapeutic healing. I’m just a little grain of sand in this giant, giant universe. I’m going to pass from this form in a little while, just like everyone else will. But I’m also a child of God and part of the eternal Body of Christ. I’m connected radically, inherently, intrinsically to the Center and to everything else. I call this “ontological holiness” as opposed to the moral holiness most of us were taught and inside of which no one really succeeds.
Surely the biblical writer who most helps us discover the Christ Mystery is the Apostle Paul. Letters by Paul or influenced by him form one third of the New Testament. Paul is a foundational teacher for what became Christianity.  Yet he hardly ever quotes Jesus. Paul never met Jesus. He did, however, encounter the risen Christ.
This is not as strange as it may seem at first. After all, the Jesus that you and I participate in, are graced and redeemed by, is the risen Christ who is no longer confined by space and time. God raised up Jesus and revealed him as the “Anointed One” or the Messiah (Acts 2:36). I believe it was not until the Resurrection that Jesus’ human mind fully realized he was the Christ. It seems to have been an evolving awareness, as “he grew in wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:52) and lived in faith just as we do.
The entire biblical revelation involves gradually developing a very different consciousness, a recreated self, and eventually a full “identity transplant” or identity realization, as we see in both Jesus and Paul. The sacred text invites us, little by little, into a very different sense of who we are: We are not our own. Your life is not about you; you are about Life! We gradually find ourselves part of the Great Vine, eventually realizing that we have never truly been separate from that Source (John 15:1-5). Once we are consciously connected to the True Vine, our life will bear much fruit for the world.
Paul seems to understand this well because it happened rather dramatically to him. He writes, “I live no longer, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Like Paul, the spiritual journey leads us to know that Someone Else is living in us and through us. We are part of a much Bigger Mystery. We are recipients, conduits, and gradually become fully willing participants in the Christ Mystery (which is not to be equated with simply joining the Christian religion).
No biblical writer had yet named what theologians now call “Trinity,” but Paul has a deep intuitive conviction about the Trinitarian flow—Love—passing through him. He comes to know that he is hardly “initiating” anything, but instead it is all happening to him. This is the same transition we all must make. Like the divine conception in Mary, we will eventually realize it is being done to and within us much more than us doing anything. All God needs is our “yes,” it seems, which tends to emerge progressively as we grow in inner freedom.
This understanding gives us an utterly different sense of self; this person is truly a “sounding through” (per-sonare) much more than an autonomous being. This identity transplant is true conversion. It is not about joining a new group or church; it is coming to know a new and essential self that is interconnected with everyone and everything else. Just as in Paul’s conversion, it takes quite a while for the scales to fall from our eyes (see Acts 9:18), with plenty of help from friends like Ananias (Acts 9:17) and others, lots of failures (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), and long quiet retreats in “Arabia” (see Galatians 1:17). His is the classic pattern of real but gradual transformation.
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.)
The kind of wholeness I’m describing as the Universal Christ is a forgotten treasure of the Christian Tradition that our postmodern world no longer enjoys and even vigorously denies. I always wonder why, after the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment, Westerners would prefer such incoherence. I thought we had agreed that coherence, pattern, and some final meaning were good. But intellectuals in the last century have denied the existence and power of such great wholeness—and in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.
The implications of our selective seeing have been massively destructive for history and humanity. Creation was deemed profane, a pretty accident, a mere backdrop for the real drama of God’s concern—which we narcissistically assumed is always and only us humans. It is impossible to make individuals feel sacred inside of a profane, empty, or accidental universe. This way of seeing makes us feel separate and competitive, striving to be superior instead of deeply connected and in search of ever-larger circles of union.
I believe God loves things by becoming them. God loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?
God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.
Have you ever wondered why creation happened in the first place? Or, like the old philosophical question, why is there anything instead of nothing? Many of the saints, mystics, and fathers and mothers of the church have said that God created because, frankly, God (who is love) needed something to love. To take that one step further, God created so that what God created could then love God back freely.
If you’re a parent, compare this with your relationship with your children. Probably your fondest desire, maybe at an unconscious level, when you first conceived or adopted a child was “I want to love this little one in every way I can!” Perhaps you thought, “I want to love this child so well that they will love me in the way that I have loved them.” Your love empowers them to love you back.
I think this is what God does in the act of creation. God creates an object of love that God can totally give Godself to that will eventually be capable of loving God back in the same way, in a free and unforced manner.
The Franciscan philosopher-theologian John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) taught that Christ was “the first idea in the mind of God” (or the “Alpha” point, Revelation 1:8 and elsewhere), not an after-the-fact attempt to solve the problem of sin. The Gospel, I believe, teaches that grace is inherent to the universe from the moment of the “Big Bang” (suggested in Genesis 1:2 by the Spirit hovering over chaos). This cosmic Christology implies that grace is not a later add-on-now-and-then-for-a-few, but the very shape of the universe from the start. The Christ Mystery (Inspirited Matter) is Plan A for God—and not a Plan B Mop-up exercise after “Adam and Eve ate the apple.”
We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as Paul puts it (Ephesians 1:4). It was all “determined beforehand in Christ” (1:9). Human sin or human-made problems (13.8 billion years after the Big Bang!) could not be a sufficient motive for the Divine Incarnation, but only love itself, and even infinite love! The Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1).
God’s first “idea” was to pour out divine infinite love into finite, visible forms. The Big Bang is our scientific name for that first idea, and “Christ” is our theological name. God never merely reacts but always supremely and freely acts . . . out of perfect and gratuitous love. Anything less is unworthy of God.
The only people that Jesus seemed to exclude were precisely those who refused to know they were ordinary sinners like everyone else. The only thing he excluded was exclusion itself.
Think about what this means for everything we sense and know about God. After the Incarnation of Jesus, we could more easily imagine a give-and-take God, a relational God, a forgiving God. Revelations of Christ—the union of matter and spirit, human and divine—were already seen and honored in the deities of Native religions, the Atman of Hinduism, the teachings of Buddhism, and the Prophets of Judaism.
Christians had a very good model and messenger in Jesus, but many non-Christians actually came to the “banquet” more easily, as Jesus often says in his parables of the resented and resisted banquet (Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:7-24), where “the wedding hall was filled with guests, both good and bad alike” (Matthew 22:10). What are we to do with such divine irresponsibility and largesse?
Why would a God worthy of the name God not care about all of the children? (Read Wisdom 11:23–12:2 for a humdinger of a Scripture in this regard.) Does God really have favorites among God’s children? What an unhappy family that would create—and indeed, it has created. The inclusion of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Christian canon ought to have served as a structural and definitive statement about Christianity’s movement toward radical inclusivity. How did we miss that?
Remember what God said to Moses: “I AM Who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God is clearly not tied to a name, nor does God seem to want us to tie the Divinity to any one name. This is why, in Judaism, God’s statement to Moses became the unspeakable and unnamable God. We must practice profound humility in regard to God, who gives us not a name, but pure presence—no handle that could allow us to think we “know” who God is or have him or her as our private possession.
The Christ is always way too much for us, larger than any one era, culture, empire, or religion. Its radical inclusivity is a threat to power and arrogance. Jesus by himself has usually been limited by the evolution of human consciousness in these first two thousand years. His reputation has been held captive by culture, nationalism, and much of Christianity’s white, bourgeois, and Eurocentric worldview. Up to now, we have not been carrying history too well, because “there stood among us one we did not recognize . . . one who came after me, because he existed before me” (John 1:26, 30). He came with darker skin, from the underclass, a male body with a female soul, from an often-hated religion, living on the very cusp between East and West. No one owns him, and no one ever will.
A truly transformative God—for both the individual and all of history—needs to be experienced as personal and universal. Nothing less will fully work. If the overly personal (even sentimental) image of Jesus has shown itself to have severe limitations and problems, it is because this Jesus was not also universal. He became cozy and we lost the cosmic. History has clearly shown that worship of Jesus without worship of Christ invariably becomes a time- and culture-bound religion, often
- misogynist, and
excluding much of humanity from God’s embrace.
I believe, however, that there has never been a single soul who was not possessed by the Christ, even in the ages before Jesus existed. Why would we want our religion or our God to be any smaller than that?
If you have felt wounded or excluded by the message of Jesus or Christ as you have heard it, I hope you sense an opening here—an affirmation, a welcome that you may have despaired of ever hearing.
If you have hoped to believe in God or a divinized world, but have never been able to mentally assent to the church’s doctrines, does this vision of Jesus the Christ help? If it helps you to love and to hope, then it is the true religion of Christ. No circumscribed group can ever exclusively claim that title!
If you have loved Jesus—perhaps with great passion and protectiveness—do you recognize that any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender and sexuality, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? All of our human differences are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.
This is why I can see Christ in my dog, the sky, and all creatures, and it’s why you, whoever you are, can experience God’s unadulterated care for you in your garden or kitchen. You can find Christ’s presence in your beloved partner or friend, an ordinary beetle, a fish in the deepest sea that no human will ever observe, and even in those who do not like you and those who are not like you.
This is the illuminating light that enlightens all things, making it possible for us to see things in their fullness. Light is less something we see directly and more something by which we see all other things. When Jesus Christ calls himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful and non-dualistic eyes. We see him so we can see like him—with the same infinite compassion.
When your isolated “I” turns into a connected “we,” you have moved from Jesus to Christ. We no longer have to carry the burden of being a perfect “I” because we are saved “in Christ” and as Christ. Or, as Christians say correctly, but too quickly, at the end of our official prayers: “Through Christ, Our Lord, Amen.”