Matter and Spirit

‘Spirit always desires to incarnate itself.’ That is how Richard Rohr puts it. Translated into my current cancer condition it would mean that something truly divine is taking place in the growing or shrinking of my tumour. This understanding of our faith is, of course, as old as the hills. (And we are rarely reminded of it!) As Christians we should be identified by our ‘visceral’ attitude to Incarnation, and the paradox of suffering. Just notice the context and weaving of light and dark in the Infancy and Passion narratives. Rohr’s summary also expresses God’s desire to live at the heart of our pain, to become, in Jesus, the divine/human back to bear and carry our particular crosses.

There is something in the burden of my present condition which fiercely fleshes divine and most tender love. There is no other way for Incarnation to happen, to break down my wilful ego, to reveal a deeper truth. How strange a mystery that God’s most precious gift, when incarnated, emerges as suffering! In my mental and bodily crucifixion this morning I’m taking part in a painful identification with the Christian God. Rohr keeps reminding us that sooner or later life is going to lead us into a place of pain we cannot fix, control, explain or understand. That’s where transformation most readily happens, he believes, because only then, and there, are we finally and completely in the hands of God. We are helpless and powerless in the face of our darkness.

All of this could be called the essence of the human condition. And it needs much contemplation to understand that life-transforming revelation. And there is a certain urgency about that call. The above ‘life-transforming revelation’ is both personal and universal; it begins with Creation and leads to Incarnation. Remember again the words of St Thomas Aquinas, ‘If we get Creation wrong we get God wrong’. The following approach has helped me to glimpse what he meant and make more sense of my faith:

Not so long ago people believed that the earth was the centre of all Creation. The sun went around it; it was all complete and fixed. Now we know that it belongs to a galaxy called the Milky Way and that there are millions of other galaxies out there in space, all with trillions of planets. Our earth is but a grain of sand on the shores of the universe; our sun is but one among billions of stars – many of which may well be inhabited by some kind of intelligent life. Social media carry daily revelations of the astonishing evolution in the realms of science. We struggle even to imagine the meaning and implications of all that is going on. We need to begin a new expansion of our imagination, to start seeing things from a radically new perspective. (I have tried to express my glimpses of the mystery in An Astonishing Secret.)

Too many of us, for instance, continue to believe in a God who is too small and separate from us – confined to a remote heaven or to this religion or that, a punishing God, a judgemental God that many of us were told about when we were children! Much of this was destructive indoctrination that made a loving relationship with God practically impossible in later life for millions of us. Moreover, many Christians still hold the image of God as ‘someone out there’. But there is no God out there. Is it too much to picture God as the enduring love and energy behind, beneath and within all things? When you pause to reflect on the mystery of yourself, of Incarnation, do you sometimes sense that there is a profound, invisible presence in every star, every breath, every moment and event, at the heart of every experience? A face of love, a smile of reassurance, holding everyone and everything together in delightful ways we cannot even imagine?

(Dancing to my Death p160- 161)