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Creation as Incarnation

Judaism and Christianity have been blamed for our world’s ecological crisis. Critics point to Genesis 1:26-28 giving humans dominion over physical creation. They charge that this mind-set has resulted in abuse of our planet. Theologian Gregory Baum has suggested that part of this blame resides in church teaching, legislation and practice that gave expression to the “sharp division between the Church as the fellowship of grace and the world as the place of God’s absence.” Adds theologian Elizabeth Dreyer: “The anti-matter, anti-worldly aspects of so much Christian literature have contributed to our inability to value matter in appropriate ways.”

By contrast, St. Francis of Assisi called the sun and fire, air and wind brother, and the moon and stars, water and earth sister,. Was he just exercising poetic license? No, he had a deep insight into Incarnational Spirituality. This insight gave him, and gives us, the theological basis for a new attitude toward physical creation and the environment.

Creation in Love. Our tendency is to isolate theological truths, rather than seeing them as a seamless whole. Incarnational Spirituality helps us to see creation, Incarnation, the crucified Christ as one continuous outpouring of God’s love for us, not as isolated events. In Franciscan Theology of the Environment, Fr. William Short, OFM writes: “Wishing to express His overflowing goodness, God pours out an expression of the divine life. God’s desire to share goodness is expressed in creation. But creation is not merely to receive some partial, limited sharing in God’s goodness and life. God will actually give away even the very heart of the divine life, the Word.”

Creation and Incarnation are the expression of God’s Transcendent Love. To abuse creation is to abuse God’s gift to us. To be oblivious of creation’s beauty and bountifulness, is to be oblivious of God’s love and bountifulness.

Creation in Christ. Fr. Short states that God formed the world through the Word. Since the Word is the crowning glory of creation, “God makes light and darkness, trees, stones and fish, all the creatures, according to the Word as model, or blueprint or form.” Each being—living and nonliving—in some way resembles the model who is Christ. All creation was created for Christ and manifests Christ in some way. Just as there is a solidarity between all human beings through the Body of Christ, so there is a solidarity between all created beings, human and nonhuman, through Christ. Therefore, all creation is sacramental. We need to reverence creation and view it with “sacramental vision”.

Creation in Spirituality. How does our attitude toward or our relationship with physical creation affect our living the spiritual life? We need that spiritual insight that enables us as body persons to realize our uniqueness among all God’s creatures and yet our likeness to them as a recipient of God’s love. That brotherhood and sisterhood to creation must be the basis for our love of God’s creation. Then we can love others, whether the others be a person or a tree or a stone.

Alienation from God, ourselves, others and creation is the primary obstacle to growth in the spiritual life. When we are possessed by the Spirit of love, our alienation is wringed out of us and we are freed to reach out and be self-giving, at least for a time. The spiritual life is all about becoming more possessed by the Spirit of love and about the process of integration with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the physical world.

This process provides us with a “cure” for our deep-seated alienation. Our relation-ship to physical reality is an integral part of that cure. For if we are not open to creation as brother and sister, we are probably not open to the Spirit of love and we are probably experiencing some measure of alienation, whether we are aware of it or not.

New Spiritual Landscape

The article, Holy Eros, proposed a whole new spirituality based on our understanding that eros is an intrinsic characteristic of human psychology and healthy spirituality. In doing so, the article was implicitly calling for a whole new spiritual landscape: With a new life vision. With a new mode of encountering God, others and created reality. And with new spiritual dynamics.

It should also be noted that the proposed spirituality is rooted in the nature of the human person. The person becomes the point of departure. In the hierarchy of knowledge with Revelation at the top and human knowledge at the bottom, we are proposing a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down one.

If it has taken the Church, focused on Revelation, 2000 years to discover the nature of the human person, this fact suggests the wrong starting point was taken with very sad consequences: The potential for human beings to achieve deeper spirituality has been limited, and God’s action in their lives has been limited.

By redirecting the point of departure, we are not suggesting that we ignore Revelation, but rather that we relate it to the nature of the human person. We are asserting that truly knowing the psychology of the person helps us to understand Jesus better, helps us to understand God better, and helps us to encounter the reality of the spiritual more deeply. Taken together, the human reveals the divine and the divine reveals the human!

New Life Vision.  With the person as the point of departure, let us ask ourselves what are the elements that we see on our new spiritual landscape? They are the same elements that comprise a person’s life vision. In his book, Fully Human, Fully Alive, Fr. John Powell, SJ defines a life vision as a person’s set of attitudes: attitudes toward self, God, others, reality, life.

Now we are proposing that we embrace a whole new spiritual landscape based on a life vision that positions eros as the cornerstone of each of our attitudes. Understand that if we change our attitudes, we change our life vision. Changing our life vision changes our values and the way we live life. The result is a new spiritual landscape. Let’s keep our model of our new spiritual landscape simple for greater clarity:

  • Self—We see ourselves as erotic beings driven by a passionate, sexual, pleasant life force that empowers our relating, our loving, our thinking, our creating.
  • God—Seeing ourselves as erotic beings, we see God as Infinite Eros, Infinite Lover, permeating all creation in communion with us and all creation.
  • Others—We see others like ourselves as erotic beings, with whom we desire to relate in spiritual communion.
  • Reality—We see eros driving us to spiritual union with and greater appreciation for creation, divine and human (nature, art, music, literature, dance, theater).
  • Life—We see life as a challenge for us to awaken our eros and channel it, awakening that energy to live vibrant, full lives, and containing it lest it destroys us. That calls for the practice of compassion, described later.

Take some time to reflect on this proposed new life vision and the resulting new spiritual landscape. Pray over it. Get comfortable with it.

New Mode of Encounter. Given our new spiritual landscape, how do we relate to God, self, others, reality? In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber revealed the basic attitudes that affect our encounters with reality. He described one mode of encounter as an I-It attitude that positions us outside a relationship, so that we can analyze, judge and make decisions about the object of our encounter. That is our usual mode of encounter. We tend to relate to people, even to God as objects. The other mode of encounter is the I-Thou attitude that disposes us to relationship. Here we treat all—God, others, creation—as subjects actively radiating out to us their positive vibrations.

The I-Thou attitude is the basis for the proposed mode of encounter for the person living with the new spiritual landscape. This is the attitude that the practice of compassion makes possible. It consists in being fully present to God, others, reality, with a caring heart and an attentive mind. In our practice of compassion, we gift ourselves, we surrender ourselves, we yield ourselves to God, others, reality to receive their presence and their giftedness. This practice is a contemplative approach to life. It calls for a disciplined, centered way of living—to the extent that it is humanly possible.

The Spirit uses our erotic nature and our practice of compassion to gift us with an array of joyful, fruitful experiences: spiritual union with God, others and creation; living in the present moment; heightened awareness and perception; and thankfulness for the gifts of creation (divine and human). The Spirit’s gifts may not always be available to us, but it is always worth praying for and striving for.

It is our eros at work within us that drives us to union with reality and to make our practice of compassion become a way of life—The Compassionate Life.

New Spiritual Dynamics. Living The Compassionate Life and embracing the new spiritual landscape sets the stage for a new spiritual dynamics in our relationships with creation, with others and with God.

First, take creation, human and divine. When we can compassionately encounter human creation such as art, music, dance, etc., our erotic selves drive us to experience spiritual union with them. It is as if human creations enter into our interior life. We experience the dynamics of the original creators and of the live performers. The result? Our aesthetic appreciation and pleasure are greatly enhanced.

As for divine creation, here too we experience a new spiritual dynamics. When we can compassionately embrace nature, we experience an erotic desire for union with God’s erotic life force that drives trees skyward, that thrusts their branches out in exquisite symmetry. We experience trees, bushes, flowers from the inside out. We are brought into God’s cosmic presence within his creations and we experience oneness with God and oneness with creation. A walk outdoors can be encounter with the eros of God. But remember, no interior dialogues, just yielding to beauty, being present to Presence.

Second, take others. Driven by raw eros we seek our own fulfillment. However, our practice of compassion toward others enables us to be safely erotic in our self-giving to them. For a brief, joyful time, we are emptied of our ego’s control so that we can be open to the presence and giftedness of others. We experience a new spiritual dynamics of positive vibrations flowing between us and others. For example, if our raw eros drives us to be judgmental of some one, we find that we cannot act that way when we consciously practice compassion toward that person. For we cannot give ourselves to the other as gift and at the same time pass judgment on the other.

Third, and most importantly, our new spiritual landscape produces new spiritual dynamics in our relationship with God. Erotic selves relating to the erotic God! Perhaps we can best see this dynamic relationship if we perceive God as Compassion.

The contemplative, centered nature of the practice of compassion sets this practice at the height of human action and interaction. So, taking our cue from the psychology of the human person, let us apply to God our concept of compassion, realizing that no concept can encompass God’s nature. That said, we see God as infinitely present in all and to all creation, with infinite love and infinite attention, ever gifting us and his creation. God is Infinite Eros, Infinite Lover, in communion with us and all creation.

So, on our new spiritual landscape we have our erotic selves interacting with God who is Eros, and an erotic God interacting with us. That is the new spiritual dynamics of the spiritual life. In that dynamic relationship God both awakens our eros and contains our eros. We are used to asking God to contain our eros. In the Our Father we pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Now, the new spiritual dynamics prompts us to pray to God to awaken our eros.

We see God as Eros at the center of our personhood radiating out love beams through our minds, hearts and wills to awaken our eros to see all—people, ourselves, creation, events—through the eyes of love. Our erotic response: we attempt to stay connected with and centered in the source of Divine Eros within us.

We see God as Eros awakening our eros by inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and to take risks at greater love. Our erotic response: we seek signs of Divine Eros in our deep, positive feelings and desires, for these are the prompts of Divine Eros inviting us to Divine Dialogue and greater love. And we strive to yield to these divine invitations.

We see God as Eros taking charge and awakening our eros to move us beyond our normal responses to people and events to carry on Jesus’ ongoing incarnation. Our erotic response: we attempt to unite with this divine burst of energy to be channels of energy to awaken others’ faith, hope and love.

Our new spiritual landscape enriches us with a new spirituality, a new life vision, a new encounter mode, a new spiritual dynamics in our encounters with God, others and creation.

Variety of Love Relationships

Married life is an excellent model for our relationship with God. For both relationships are centered in love. Both relationships take on many forms. In the marital relationship, couples are friends, lovers, mentors, helpers, economic partners, spiritual partners. And there is mystery pervading the relationship, the mystery of relating to one who is other than and different from oneself.

Likewise, our relationship with God can assume many different forms, one of which should include a deep sense of mystery. Perhaps, because the human heart has so many desires, we seek in the other or the Other a response to our variety of longings.

Further, for both marital and divine relationships, variety is not only a possibility; it is also the spice of life and a sure sign of a fully alive relationship. Also, for both there is the need for discernment to discover our hearts’ longings and the appropriate form of relationship for any given moment. In the marital relationship, discernment must take into account the heart wishes of both parties. In the spiritual relationship, we must not only pursue relationship with God, but we must always leave ourselves open for the Spirit’s prompts.

Some common ways of relating to God are: companionship, ongoing incarnation, communal presence, mentor, divine eros, romance, divine love center, compassionate presence, cosmic presence, ultimate beauty, and Mystery:

  • We relate to God as companion when we hang out with Jesus, who lives on in the Risen Christ, and experience his companionship as we enter into prayer or study or reach out to others in our efforts to bring them the Good News.
  • We relate to God as ongoing incarnation when we however briefly act beyond our capacities to be Jesus to others.
  • We relate to God as communal presence when we affirm the Risen Christ’s presence in community empowering us to growth through one another with the Spirit’s help.  
  • We relate to God as mentor and guide when we connect with the Spirit who conducts constantly a dialogue with us to let us know about what God wants of us. It is the Spirit too who helps us discern the movements of our hearts, whether they be holy or unholy, calculated only to hinder the work of the Spirit within us.
  • We relate to God as divine eros when we sense that the Spirit is directing arrows of love toward us to awaken us to the possibilities of love and to call us out of our tombs into new life like Lazarus.
  • We relate to God in a romantic way when we increasingly see the possibilities of divine love in the articles of our faith—Jesus’ birth, life, death, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of the Risen Christ. Or when we increasingly appreciate the abundance of God’s gift to us in creation. Or when we increasingly grow in faith and see God as our ultimate source of being and love and hope and enlightenment.
  • We relate to God as divine love center when we encounter God at the core of our being radiating out beams of love through our minds, hearts and wills so that we may see all through the eyes of love.
  • We relate to God as compassionate presence when we are fully present with a caring heart and attentive mind to “receive” God who is infinitely present in us and all creation with infinite love and infinite attention. And we gift ourselves to the Giver of all gifts.
  • We relate to God as cosmic presence when we encounter God’s presence and love radiating out through ourselves and all creation.
  • We relate to God as ultimate beauty when we encounter beauty in the arts, in nature, in other people and attribute that beauty to God.
  • We relate to God as Mystery when we surrender in absolute wonder and speechless awe to the One who transcends our knowing, who is beyond our understanding, as we do in centering prayer.

The possibilities of practicing relationship with God are endless. The very variety opens up for us countless points of encounter that can fill our day with God’s presence. The variety also gives balance to our relationship with God. The danger of focusing on one type of relationship is that we may make an idol of it. Worse, we may feel we own God, leaving us unprepared for the inevitable shocks of life.

Most importantly, practicing the variety of relationships with God drives us to engage in the Dance of the Divine Dance—Love radiating out, Love inviting and Love taking charge—three relationships flowing into one continuous movement of love, inspiration and action toward and for others.

 

Encountering Infinite Lover

We have said elsewhere that through deep contemplative prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, Jesus discovered God the Father as Compassion Who loved all beings and all creation with unconditional love. In other words, Jesus discovered God as the Infinite Lover at the very core of his being and all beings. This discovery transformed Jesus into a radical lover of God and all humanity.

What are the implications of Jesus’ experience for our spiritual life? Should not our spiritual life reflect Jesus’ experience? Should we not be attempting to encounter God as Infinite Lover as Jesus did? Should not Jesus’ vision of God as Infinite Lover be the overriding thrust of our spiritual practices? Here are three practices to deepen our encounter with God as Infinite Lover.

See Possibilities. See the possibilities of love for an Infinite Lover. Where? In the articles of our faith. We must view them, not just as articles of faith, but as the outpourings of love of an Infinite Lover. God assuming humanity in Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus living our human life and dying our human death, and that a horrendous one. God gifting us with his Holy Spirit as our Higher Power and intimate guide. We being incorporated into the Body of Christ and empowered with Jesus’ powers. All are incarnate realizations of the infinite love of the Infinite Lover!

Not only must we see these articles of faith as actualized possibilities of Infinite Love, but we must also attempt to grow in our response to these love possibilities of the Infinite Lover. We cannot allow ourselves to acknowledge them only in our minds as infinite possibilities. We must seek to enter into their depth with our entire personhood.

These actualized possibilities of Infinite Love are the facts of our salvation history, but for our spiritual life the degree of our wonder at them must deepen, for it is wonder that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Appreciate Abundance. Appreciate the abundance that God has lavished upon us. God as Infinite Lover possesses infinite abundance, and he shares that abundance with us. We see that abundance manifested in our salvation history, and everywhere we look—in the countless flowers and trees, in the mountains and the oceans. God creating and sustaining the universe and everything in it, and all manifesting his presence, beauty, wisdom, love and attention.

Had God created just one flower or one tree, pilgrims would flock to admire them. Instead, he has lavished his abundance upon us, and we tend to ignore it. Creation must be an intrinsic part of our spirituality. The degree of our appreciation for creation must deepen, for it is appreciation that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover.

Dance the Divine Dance. Dance the dance of the Infinite Lover. Divine Love dances us in three movements—Love Radiating Out, Love Inviting, and Love Taking Charge—over and over again. I will describe each of these movements separately, but there is a dynamic flow here. In fact, we must learn to move with the movements of the dance. It is like a ballerina dancing with three partners, each handing her off to the next. The degree of our engagement in this dance must deepen, for it is engagement that will open us up to our encounter with the Infinite Lover:

  • Love Radiating Out is the Infinite Lover at the center of our being radiating out love beams through our minds, hearts and wills so that we see all—people, ourselves, creation, events—through the eyes of love. However, it takes two to tango. For the first movement of the dance to begin, we must prepare ourselves through centering: the practice of firing up our hearts, focusing our attention and entering fully into the present moment to connect with the center of our being. And we must pray that our hearts be opened to the Infinite Lover’s outpouring of Divine Love.
  • Love Inviting, the second movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking action in our spiritual lives, inviting us to break out of our comfort zones and take risks at greater love of the Infinite Lover and others. The first movement, Love Radiating Out, can be so heart-warming and joyous that we are tempted to rest in that experience. But divine consolation is divine invitation. Love Inviting wants more for us. To prepare ourselves we must grow in awareness of the Infinite Lover’s invitations and live in expectancy of them.
  • Love Taking Charge, the third movement of the dance, is the Infinite Lover taking over our lives. Here the Infinite Lover drives us to act beyond ourselves, beyond our normal responses to people and events. We feel Divine Love taking charge of us and moving us beyond our capabilities. And with such ease that we don’t mind the push. Then we understand what St. Paul meant when he said: “Now not I, but Christ lives in me.” With Love Taking Charge, the dance has been completed. However, it is up to us to initiate the dance over and over again through our practice of centering.

No one can ever fathom the love of the Infinite Lover. We can only reach out to the Infinite Lover. But our hearts have been created to pursue the Infinite Lover. And there is great joy in the reaching out–experiencing ever greater wonder at the possibilities of love as demonstrated by God’s actions in our salvation history, experiencing ever greater thankfulness for God’s abundance shared with us, experiencing ever greater engagement in the dance of the Infinite Lover, attempting to dance us into a deeper, more intimate relationship.