Incarnation: Towards an embodied spirituality…
…the church lives in the world as a new society to bring to civil government a vision for a new redemptive order. It cannot do this in a triumphalist way, but in modesty and humility, aware of its own need for repentance.
Duane Friesen, Artists, Citizens, Philosophers
We are not at all just an accidental anomaly, the microscopic caprice of a tiny particle whirling in the endless depths of the universe. Instead, we are mysteriously connected to the entire universe; we are mirrored in it, just at the entire evolution of the universe is mirrored in us.
Vaclav Havel, Liberty Medal ceremony in Philadelphia, on July 4, 1994
Incarnation is a theme that we are exploring deeply at SMC. It has to do with the relationship of spirit and matter…inner/outer…private/communal. The Christian view of this begins with a Creation perspective on the world we live in. Inherent in this view is that the material world exists because of the purposeful act of the divine community–Ruach Elohim, Logos. We are integrated beings–from dust and the ruach of God. We are not just biological beings engaged in an existential survival of the fittest. Humans are image-bearers who carry the divine spark. All that exists, visible and invisible, is the work of God. In the Hebrew poetry through which we receive this view of Creation we also understand that it is good.
This perspective has profound implications as we examine Culture from a Christian framework. History…Culture… have an integrative center beyond progress (modernity)…beyond the liberation of enlightened individuals. The integrative center is only possible as we imagine a holism that purposes more than the mere survival of the species. The holism–the integrative center has to do with justice, beauty and truth. It is revealed in text and art, but ultimately must be translated into the physical and social realities of human living.
The Christian view goes beyond this however. We are not just deists who then are left to discover these “self-evident” truths of the created order through the ways and means of Enlightenment rationalism. The Christian claim would be that God speaks another word besides the word at Creation, beyond the words spoken to a particular people in antiquity (Hebrews). In Jesus Christ, the claim would be that God speaks a universal–cosmic Word. The Incarnation itself–God enfleshed in a human body–is the most technicolor sign of what the eternal order of righteousness, beauty and justice is like. The Incarnation is engagement with a particular culture.
The Incarnation offers possibilities for imagining how the Good News of the Kingdom intersects with a political realm. It imagines victory through a cross and the only sword wielded by the Messiah is one that comes from his mouth. Thus, Jesus Christ becomes the norming norm of a new creation that exists within and alongside the broken, fragmented human order. The restoration and renewal of creation–the cosmos–is what Jesus is about. In Christ Jesus, God stakes a claim within history and says this is not a throw away world. Salvation is not the great escape at the end of time. Rather it is the hope of rebirth, renewal, restoration. It is the promise of justice, beauty, and love. It is the possibility of healing and hope in a world of fragmented despair. The Incarnation provides a framework through which we might imagine our own participation in Culture.
I submit that many Christians are acting irresponsibly in relation to creation, geo-politics, because the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is understood only to have spiritual significance. The notion is that what matters most is intellectual ascent/emotional response to truth–dogma. Right belief is the essence of “salvation.” This view has also contributed toward a privatized version of Christianity–where the integrative center is a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Truth is disembodied. The actual life and teachings of Jesus is not the point. It’s more about a legal transaction to free humans from guilt. It denies the significance of Incarnation for how the Kingdom of God breaks in through weakness to transform the social order–Culture. Politics of healing through a cross. Radical stuff.
This gospel is the fruit of Western Enlightenment liberalism (Lock, Rosseau). It continues in the tradition of Augustine and Luther of separating the world into two dominant motiffs–the city of God and the pragmatic order of this world. We find that this way of reading scripture has contributed much desecration in history. Right praxis–embodied spirituality–the union of spirit and matter is seen as of secondary importance. This view becomes the dominant one in the Christendom model of Christianity. Nation-state and church synthesis provide a vision of the intersection of spirit and matter which appropriates some Christian language, but avoids the more radical teachings of Jesus. Friesen, Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City, and McClendon, Doctrine…Ethics…Witness, provide an alternative vision for how an integrative holism might shape the people of God who seek to live as agents of healing and hope in this present age (even as we anticipate the consumation of all things in the age to come).
So we pray, may your Kingdom come (this day) on earth as it is in heaven. I wonder what we imagine that looking like and does it have anything to do with the life and teachings of Jesus. What would it look like to embody behaviors that are aligned with the Kingdom of God? In the Middle East? In Washington D.C.?