Fr. Richard Rohr on Creation and Incarnation

February 23, 2019

Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, Feb 2018:

The first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5  We aim to see as God sees.  Light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else. This is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ makes the almost boastful statement, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

I believe God loves things by becoming themGod loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?  God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.

Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture. —Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) [1]

Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made. —Romans 1:20

I think what Paul means here is that whatever we need to know about God can be found in nature. Nature itself is the primary Bible. The world is the locus of the sacred and provides all the metaphors that the soul needs for its growth.  If you scale chronological history down to the span of one year, with the Big Bang on January 1, then our species, Homo sapiens, doesn’t appear until 11:59 p.m. on December 31. That means the written Bible and Christianity appeared in the last nanosecond of December 31.

Ilia Delio: Teilhard indicated that in the [first] incarnation, the “self” of God is in the “self-emptying” of God. God is that which is constantly becoming “element,” drawing all things through love into fullness of being. God incarnate invests Godself organically with all of creation, immersing [Godself] in things, in the heart of matter and thus unifying the world. This investment of divinity in materiality is the Christ. The universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter by the influence of this divine nature. Everything is physically “christified,” gathered up by the incarnate Word as nourishment that assimilates, transforms, and divinizes. The world is like a crystal lamp illumined from within (Ilia Delio, A Hunger for Wholeness: Soul, Space, and Transcendence (Paulist Press: 2018), 45.)

My point is this: When I know that the world around me is both the hiding place and the revelation of God, I can no longer make a significant distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between the holy and the profane. (A divine “voice” makes this exactly clear to a very resistant Peter in Acts 10.) Everything I see and know is indeed one “uni-verse,” revolving around one coherent center. This Divine Presence always seeks connection and communion, not separation or division—except for the sake of an even deeper future union.

**

God’s first “idea” was to pour out divine infinite love into finite, visible forms. The Big Bang is our scientific name for that first idea, and “Christ” is our theological name. (Sunday)

Long before Jesus’ personal Incarnation, Christ was deeply embedded in all things—as all things! (Monday)

Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. (Tuesday)

The world is created as a means of God’s self-revelation so that, like a mirror or footprint, it might lead us to love and praise the Creator. We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. —Ilia Delio (Wednesday)

“The Christ Mystery” proclaims that there is universal and equal access to God for all who have ever wanted love and union since the primal birth of humanity. (Thursday)

The world is like a crystal lamp illumined from within by the light of Christ. For those who can see, Christ shines in this diaphanous universe, through the cosmos and in matter. —Ilia Delio (Friday)

Christ Since the Beginning

God’s First Idea, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Sunday, February 17, 2019

Have you ever wondered why creation happened in the first place? Or, like the old philosophical question, why is there anything instead of nothing? Many of the saints, mystics, and fathers and mothers of the church have said that God created because, frankly, God (who is love) needed something to love. To take that one step further, God created so that what God created could then love God back freely. (Ed note: Or creating, generativity is a loving thing.  Being a regenerative and creative force is loving too, rather than an extractive and destructive one in this world.)

If you’re a parent, compare this with your relationship with your children. Probably your fondest desire, maybe at an unconscious level, when you first conceived or adopted a child was “I want to love this little one in every way I can!” Perhaps you thought, “I want to love this child so well that they will love me in the way that I have loved them.” Your love empowers them to love you back.  I think this is what God does in the act of creation. God creates an object of love that God can totally give Godself to that will eventually be capable of loving God back in the same way, in a free and unforced manner.

The Franciscan philosopher-theologian John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) taught that Christ was “the first idea in the mind of God” (or the “Alpha” point, Revelation 1:8 and elsewhere), not an after-the-fact attempt to solve the problem of sin. The Gospel, I believe, teaches that grace is inherent to the universe from the moment of the “Big Bang” (suggested in Genesis 1:2 by the Spirit hovering over chaos). This cosmic Christology implies that grace is not a later add-on-now-and-then-for-a-few, but the very shape of the universe from the start. The Christ Mystery (Inspirited Matter) is Plan A for God—and not a Plan B Mop-up exercise after “Adam and Eve ate the apple.”

We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as Paul puts it (Ephesians 1:4). It was all “determined beforehand in Christ” (1:9). Human sin or human-made problems (13.8 billion years after the Big Bang!) could not be a sufficient motive for the Divine Incarnation, but only love itself, and even infinite love! The Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1).

God’s first “idea” was to pour out divine infinite love into finite, visible forms. The Big Bang is our scientific name for that first idea, and “Christ” is our theological name. God never merely reacts but always supremely and freely acts . . . out of perfect and gratuitous love. Anything less is unworthy of God.

References: Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Cosmic Christ, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CDMP3 download; and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 177, 185.

Christ Since the Beginning: the first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5  We aim to see as God sees.  Light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else. This is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ makes the almost boastful statement, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

In the Beginning, Monday, February 18, 2019

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. —Genesis 1:1-3, Jerusalem Bible

When Christians hear the word “incarnation,” most of us think about the birth of Jesus who personally demonstrated God’s radical unity with humanity. But I want to suggest that the first Incarnation was the moment described in Genesis 1, when God joined in unity with the physical universe and became the light inside of everything. (This, I believe, is why light is the subject of the first day of creation.)

In the beginning was the Cosmic Blueprint (“Logos”), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5

If you can overlook how John uses a masculine pronoun to describe something that is clearly beyond gender, you can see that he is giving us a sacred cosmology and not just a theology (see John 1:1-18). Long before Jesus’ personal Incarnation, Christ was deeply embedded in all things—as all things! The first lines of the Bible say that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” or the “formless void,” and immediately the material universe became fully visible in its depths and meaning (Genesis 1:1-3). The Christ Mystery is the New Testament’s attempt to name this visibility or see-ability that occurred on the first day.

Remember, light is not so much what you directly see as that by which you see everything else. This is why in John’s Gospel, Jesus Christ makes the almost boastful statement, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). Jesus Christ is the amalgam of matter and spirit put together in one place, so we ourselves can put it together in all places and enjoy things in their fullness. It can even enable us to see as God sees, if that is not hoping for too much.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 12-14.

Coherence and Belonging
Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The kind of wholeness I’m describing as the Universal Christ is a forgotten treasure of the Christian Tradition that our postmodern world no longer enjoys and even vigorously denies. I always wonder why, after the rise of rationalism in the Enlightenment, Westerners would prefer such incoherence. I thought we had agreed that coherence, pattern, and some final meaning were good. But intellectuals in the last century have denied the existence and power of such great wholeness—and in Christianity, we have made the mistake of limiting the Creator’s presence to just one human manifestation, Jesus.

The implications of our selective seeing have been massively destructive for history and humanity. Creation was deemed profane, a pretty accident, a mere backdrop for the real drama of God’s concern—which we narcissistically assumed is always and only us humans. It is impossible to make individuals feel sacred inside of a profane, empty, or accidental universe. This way of seeing makes us feel separate and competitive, striving to be superior instead of deeply connected and in search of ever-larger circles of union.

I believe God loves things by becoming themGod loves things by uniting with them, not by excluding them. Through the act of creation, God manifested the eternally out-flowing Divine Presence into the physical and material world. Ordinary matter is the hiding place for Spirit and thus the very Body of God. Honestly, what else could it be, if we believe—as orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims do—that “one God created all things”? Since the very beginning of time, God’s Spirit has been revealing its glory and goodness through the physical creation. So many of the Psalms assert this, speaking of “rivers clapping their hands” and “mountains singing for joy.” When Paul wrote, “There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), was he a naïve pantheist or did he really understand the full implication of the Gospel of Incarnation?

God seems to have chosen to manifest the invisible in what we call the “visible,” so that all things visible are the revelation of God’s endlessly diffusive spiritual energy. Once a person recognizes that, it is hard to ever be lonely in this world again.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 15-17.

The First Bible, Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture. —Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) [1]

Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made. —Romans 1:20

I think what Paul means here is that whatever we need to know about God can be found in nature. Nature itself is the primary Bible. The world is the locus of the sacred and provides all the metaphors that the soul needs for its growth.

If you scale chronological history down to the span of one year, with the Big Bang on January 1, then our species, Homo sapiens, doesn’t appear until 11:59 p.m. on December 31. That means the written Bible and Christianity appeared in the last nanosecond of December 31. I can’t believe that God had nothing to say until the last moment of December 31. Rather, as both Paul and Thomas Aquinas say, God has been revealing God’s love, goodness, and beauty since the very beginning through the natural world of creation. “God looked at everything God had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Acknowledging the intrinsic value and beauty of creation, elements, plants, and animals is a major paradigm shift for most Western and cultural Christians. In fact, we have often dismissed it as animism or paganism. We limited God’s love and salvation to our own human species, and, even then, we did not have enough love to go around for all of humanity! God ended up looking quite miserly and inept, to be honest.

Listen instead to the Book of Wisdom (13:1, 5):

How dull are all people who, from the things-that-are, have not been able to discover God-Who-Is, or by studying the good works have failed to recognize the Artist. . . . Through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.

Sister Ilia Delio writes in true Franciscan style:

The world is created as a means of God’s self-revelation so that, like a mirror or footprint, it might lead us to love and praise the Creator. We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. This book of creation is an expression of who God is and is meant to lead humans to what it signifies, namely, the eternal Trinity of dynamic, self-diffusive love. [2] (Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008), 62.)

All you have to do today is go outside and gaze at one leaf, long and lovingly, until you know, really know, that this leaf is a participation in the eternal being of God. It’s enough to create ecstasy. The seeming value or dignity of an object doesn’t matter; it is the dignity of your relationship to the thing that matters. For a true contemplative, a gratuitously falling leaf will awaken awe and wonder just as much as a golden tabernacle in a cathedral.

References:
[1] Thomas Aquinas, Sermons on the Two Precepts of Charity and the Ten Precepts of the Law (1273), as cited by Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality (Tarcher/Putnam: 2003, ©1992), 59.

[2] Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution (Orbis Books: 2008), 62.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 30-31.

The First Incarnation
Thursday, February 21, 2019

The first Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. That is just the moment when it became human and personal, and many people began to take divine embodiment as a serious possibility. The initial Incarnation actually happened around 14 billion years ago with “The Big Bang.” That is what we now call the moment when God decided to materialize and self-expose, at least in this universe. The first “idea” in the mind of God was to make Divine Formlessness into physical form, so that everything visible is a further revelation of what has been going on secretly inside of God from all eternity. Love always outpours! God spoke the Eternal Blueprint/Idea called Christ, “and so it was!” (Genesis 1:9).

Two thousand years ago marks the Incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the Incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast” according to the Genesis creation story (1:3-25). This is the “Cosmic Christ” through which God has “let us know the mystery of God’s purpose, the hidden plan made from the beginning in Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10). Christ is not Jesus’ last name, but the title for his life’s purpose. Christ is our word for what Jesus came to personally reveal and validate—which is true all the time and everywhere.

Most of Christian history has heard little or nothing about this timeless mystery, and we settled for a small tribal god instead. We put Jesus in competition with other religions instead of allowing him to ground the universal search for God in the material world itself, in nature, cosmos, and history—from the very beginnings of time. In other words, all creatures were capable of knowing and loving God long before the world religions formalized their doctrines and rituals (see Romans 1:20). Were the first millennia of human beings (San or Bushmen, Mayans, Celts, Aboriginals, and on and on) just trial runs and throwaways for a very inefficient God? That cannot be! God did not just start talking and loving 2,000 years ago. Infinite Love would never operate that way. “The Christ Mystery” proclaims that there is universal and equal access to God for all who have ever wanted love and union since the primal birth of humanity. In simple words, Stone Age people already had access to God!

As Colossians puts it: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation” (1:15); Christ is the one glorious icon that names and reveals the entire arc of history. “The fullness is founded in Christ . . . everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Colossians 1:19-20). It gets better: God has never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating the Christ, as this one mystery continues to unfold and evolve in time (see Romans 8:19-25). All of us are meant to be “the second coming of Christ,” but how can we recognize or honor this without recognizing both the first (creation) and the second (Jesus) Incarnations? (See John 1:9-11 and note the active participle verb: The Light was coming into the world. We now call that evolution.)

References: Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Creation as the Body of God,” Radical Grace, vol. 23, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), 3, 22; The Cosmic Christ (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CDMP3 download; and In the Footsteps of Francis: Awakening to Creation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CDMP3 download.

An Incarnational Worldview
Friday, February 22, 2019

What I am calling an incarnational worldview is the profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally “every thing” and “every one.” It is the key to mental and spiritual health, as well as to a kind of basic contentment and happiness.

Ilia Delio, an expert on geologist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), writes:

Building on the idea that love is self-communicative, Teilhard indicated that in the [first] incarnation, the “self” of God is in the “self-emptying” of God. God is that which is constantly becoming “element,” drawing all things through love into fullness of being. God incarnate invests Godself organically with all of creation, immersing [Godself] in things, in the heart of matter and thus unifying the world. This investment of divinity in materiality is the Christ. The universe is physically impregnated to the very core of its matter by the influence of this divine nature. Everything is physically “christified,” gathered up by the incarnate Word as nourishment that assimilates, transforms, and divinizes. The world is like a crystal lamp illumined from within by the light of Christ. For those who can see, Christ shines in this diaphanous universe, through the cosmos and in matter. [1]

Christians believe that this universal presence was later “born of a woman under the law” (Galatians 4:4) in a moment of chronological time. This is the great Christian leap of faith, which not everyone is willing to make.

We daringly believe that God’s presence was poured into a single human being, so that humanity and divinity can be seen to be operating as one in him—and therefore in us! But instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world. The second Incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation.

My point is this: When I know that the world around me is both the hiding place and the revelation of God, I can no longer make a significant distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between the holy and the profane. (A divine “voice” makes this exactly clear to a very resistant Peter in Acts 10.) Everything I see and know is indeed one “uni-verse,” revolving around one coherent center. This Divine Presence always seeks connection and communion, not separation or division—except for the sake of an even deeper future union.

References:
[1] Ilia Delio, A Hunger for Wholeness: Soul, Space, and Transcendence (Paulist Press: 2018), 45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 14-15, 18.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the beginning was the Cosmic Blueprint (“Logos”), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. —John 1:1-5