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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.

Incarnation-Eternal Process

We have to identify some misconceptions about the Incarnation. Otherwise, we will not appreciate God’s action in eternity, in creation, in history, in the present, in the hereafter. The source of our misconceptions is that we relate the Incarnation to a single event in history (Christ’s birth and life), and thus pigeonhole the Incarnation. Rather, the Incarnation is a continuum—from before time to after time.

Incarnation in Eternity. The usual timeline of human salvation is creation, fall of the human race, and then the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. However, that standard chronology is not correct, states Biblical Scholar Stephen Doyle, OFM. “Before creation, before our first parents, before sin, the Word made flesh takes first place in God’s plan. Christ is not a last-minute rescue plan in God’s plan because Adam and Eve had sinned. Rather, Christ is the heart of the Father’s plan from all eternity. The divine Word would have been incarnated in Christ even if the first man and woman had never sinned.” St. Paul writes that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Eph 1:4) So God had great plans for us from all eternity.

Incarnation at Creation. In actuality and in a broader sense, we can say that the Incarnation began with the creation of the universe—with the Spirit bringing order out of chaos as we read in Genesis. God is first and foremost Creator. Incarnation is the way God creates—by becoming intimately part of that which He creates. Father Doyle says: “It helps to look at all created things as if they are scattered pieces of a beautiful picture puzzle. It’s only when the pieces are put back in their proper places that they form the original image of Christ, thus displaying their true beauty and meaning.” So, all is creation, all is incarnation, all is potentially Eucharist—capable of uniting us with God.

Incarnation in History. The process of Incarnation that began in God’s mind before creation, and in creation with the Spirit bringing order out of chaos, makes its spectacular appearance in Christ’s birth. Again the Spirit is at work. In Luke 1:34,35, we read: “Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a child? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied: ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overpower you; so that the child born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God.” The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. At a point in time, God’s Son became incarnate to share His love with us. Jesus came not only as our brother, but as our redeeming brother.

Incarnation in Process. But the Incarnation is not only history; it is the mystery of the on-going process of Incarnation. This understanding of the Incarnation is both ancient and new. Ancient, Theologian Bernard Cooke tells us, because it is a recovery of very early Christian understanding. “New” because this sense of Jesus’ constant presence to believers gave way to the notion that Jesus had left this earth and gone up to heaven. It is only in mid-twentieth century that we have regained the understanding of Jesus’ constant presence. As a result, we also understand that believers function as the “Body of Christ”.

So the ongoing Incarnation is the process of the Spirit penetrating us with Jesus’ presence and power, and each of us attempting to bring to birth Jesus through our lives as members of the Body of Christ.

Incarnation in Fullness of Time. As Jesus has gathered us into His ongoing Incarnation during our lifetimes, in the fullness of time He will gather our resurrected bodies in a radically changed universe that has become Christ’s resurrected body, says Rev. John J. Walsh, M.M. St. Paul describes God’s plan “to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” And happily that includes us!