The incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. That is just when some of us started taking it seriously. The incarnation actually happened approximately 14.5 billion years ago with a moment that we now call “The Big Bang.” That is when God actually decided to materialize and to expose who God is. This alone provides any solid bases for reverence, universal sacrality, and our attempts to form a spiritual ecology that transcends groups and religions.
Two thousand years ago marked the human incarnation of God in Jesus, we Christians believe, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast,” according to Judeo-Christian creation story (Genesis 1:3-25). This was the “Cosmic Christ” through which God has “let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning of Christ” (Ephesians 1:9). You see, Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose. (Some believe, as I do myself, that the ancient Hindu love of Krishna, also a human avatar and incarnation of the divine, was revealing the very same mystery.)
Jesus is a concrete truth revealing and standing in for the eternal truth of the union between the divine and the human, or the Christ Mystery - or Krishna. I myself believe this, but just to believe it is not to live it. The living of this love mystery is the important thing and not the correct naming of it! I have met Hasidic Jews, Hesychastic Orthodox, Sufi Muslims, and “pagan” animists who live it much better than we do.
As the Letter to the Colossians puts it, “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” (1:15); he is the one glorious part that names and reveals the even more glorious whole. “The fullness is founded in him, everything in heaven and everything on earth” (1:19-20). Or as our Francisan philosopher, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), put if, Christ was “the very first idea in the mind of God,” and God has never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating the Eternal Christ Mystery. The Dominican Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) add, “The immense diversity and pluriformity of this creation more perfectly represents God than any one creature alone or by itself.”
For most of us, this understanding represents a significant shaking of our foundational image of the universe and of our religion, I am sad to say. Many Christians have the world as sadly inert, non-enchanted, unholy, and even dangerous and evil. As if God’s creation could be separate from God! Yet if any group should have come to this quite simply and naturally, it should have been those three groups of believers that call themselves “monotheists”: Jews, Christians, and Muslims and claim to believe that the world was created by one good God. It would seem to follow therefore that everything - everything without exception - would bear the clear imprint and likeness of this one Creator. How could we miss that? Did Satan, in fact, create some of us? We monotheists are the very ones who said “No!” to that. We believe that “One God created everything out of nothing” (Genesis 1:2)
We could perhaps say that this terrible misperception was a disastrous act of human self-congratulation and self-absorption. For some reason, Christians thought humans were the only creatures that God cared about, and all else was literally just “food” for our own sustenance and enjoyment - animals, plants, sun, water, and earth! The world was just a gratuitous painted backdrop so we could do our Christian thing and be “saved”! Yet God created millions of creatures for millions of years before we came along - many of whom we never saw and others of whom we have yet to see or discover - for no human purpose whatsoever. God seems to be concerned to communicate Himself/Herself as endless, multitudinous beauty, love, and fecundity. Almost shocking, isn’t it?
For many Judeo-Christians, God has created a seemingly “throw-away world.” The so-called “Stone Age” people, the ancient civilizations, the Persians, Greek, Aztec, Mayan, Inca, and Roman empires, even the poor ones we called barbarians, were merely warm-up acts for us. None of them really mattered to God, neither woman, child, beast, nor man. God was just biding his time, waiting for good Jews, Christians, and Muslims to appear, and most preferably Roman Catholics, conservative Orthodox, or Born-Again Evangelicals.
I am not being unfair here; this is quite literally true. A sort of cosmic narcissism, it seems to me. But if you do not see the individual ego (the separate self) as a problem, it is almost impossible to recognize the corporate separate self as an even worse problem. This nationalism, ethnic cleansing of various sorts, burning of heretics, persecution of all that was “not me,” including the rest of creation (animals, all growing things, earth, and water), were literally “fair game” for us. Poor God must just cry.
If nothing else, one would have thought good people would be shocked and scandalized at God’s gross inefficiency and non-concern for life. But if only got worse, as Christians were assured that all Hindu, Buddhists, Muslims, pagans, atheists, communists, and unbelievers of any stripe (all “not me”) were also of no interest whatsoever to their Creator. Apparently, God just likes white Christian Americans, preferably Republican - while this very group wastes not a tear on the fact that their worldview leaves 99 percent of what God has created since the beginning of time lost, rejected, and even punished for all eternity. And this is the group that dares to call itself “pro-life”!
Christians must realize what a muddle we have got ourselves into by not taking incarnation and the body of God seriously. It is our only Christian trump card, and we have yet to actually play it! As Sally McFague, a Christian theologian, say so powerfully in her book The Body of God, “Salvation is the direction of all of creation, and creation is the very place of salvation.” All is God’s place, which is our place, which is the only place and every place.
In the fourth century St. Augustine, and official “Doctor of the Church,” said that “the church consists in the state of communion of the whole world” (Ecclesiam in totius orbis communione consistere). Wherever we are connected, in right relationship - you might say “in love” - there is the Christ, the Body of God, and there is the church, the temple, and the mosque. But Christians sadly whittled that Great Mystery down into something small, exclusive, and manageable too. The church became a Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant private club, and not necessarily formed by people who were “in communion” with anything else, usually not with the natural world, with non-Christians, or even with other very tiny salvation, hardly worthy of the name. God was not magnanimous, or victorious at all, despite’s all our songs of “How great is our God”!
Our very suffering now, our condensed presence on this common nest that we have largely fouled, will soon be the ONE thing that we finally share in common. It might well be the one thing that will bring us together politically and religiously. The earth and its life systems, on which we all entirely depend (just like God!), might soon become the very thing that will convert us to a simple lifestyle, to necessary community, and to an inherent and universal sense of reverence for the Holy. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water. There are no Jewish, Christian, or Muslim versions of these universal elements. I know it is no longer words, doctrines, and mental belief systems that can or will reveal the fullness of this Cosmic Christ. This earth indeed is the very Body of God, and It is from this body that we are born, live, suffer, and resurrect to eternal life. Either all is God’s Great Project, or we may rightly wonder whether anything is.
“From the beginning until now, the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth, and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan inwardly, as we wait for our bodies to be set free.” Romans 8:22-23
It seems that St. Paul is saying here that we human ones might be the last ones to jump aboard God’s great plan and direction. There is the groaning of growing in all of creation, and the groaning of resisting and “waiting” in all that is human and animal, and in everything that is forever being born in new forms, forever growing and dying.
Non-human creation has been obedient to its destiny, it seems:
“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: ….myself it speaks and spells, crying What I do is me; For that I came. - Gerard Manly Hopkins
Wouldn’t it be our last and greatest humiliation, surely the “first being last,” as Jesus says, if we one day realize that all other creatures have obeyed their destiny unblinkingly and with trustful surrender - all except us? Just watch the plants and animals for even a short while, and you will see their loving obedience. We alone have the “free will” to deny our own destiny.
It is only humans who have resisted “the one great act of giving birth,” and in fact have frequently chosen death for themselves and for so many others besides. We can do better, we must do better, and by God’s patient grace, we will do better - once we recognize that it is one shared creation and we are all a part of it for better or for worse.
At the level of survival we are fast approaching, our attempts to distinguish ourselves by accidental and historical differences and the theological subtleties - while ignoring the clear “bottom line” - are becoming an almost blasphemous waste of time and a shocking disrespect for God’s one, beautiful, and multitudinous life. I do still believe that grace is inherent to creation, and that God and goodness will still have the final word. - Richard Rohr, Creation as the Body of God