Please join me in an experiment. This may sound cliché, but I want you to go to your happy place. I think we all have a place that we like to escape to, away from the hustle and bustle of life. It’s what the mystics call a thin place, where the space between heaven and earth is done away with. For many of us, it’s out in nature, perhaps on a hilltop overlooking a valley. Maybe it’s beside the ocean, lake or river. For others it could be in the heart of the forest. Wherever it is, I want you to go there now.
Sit up straight, preferably with your feet planted on the floor or ground, although sitting cross-legged is ok too. Close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths – in and out, in and then out. Now allow your mind to take your body and your senses to your special place. Let the scenery flow over you. See the sun glistening on the water or the mist shrouding the hilltop. Smell the earthy richness of the forest floor. Perhaps you can taste the salty air in your mouth. What do you hear – seagulls crying, water spilling over rocks, nothing but the sound of your own breath and heartbeat? Feel the firmness of the ground beneath you, the warmth of the sun on your face, the goosebumps on your flesh as the cool wind touches you. Who is with you – are you alone or with others? What are you doing – is it some creative activity like painting, writing, composing, sewing? Or are you just being still?
Allow yourself to linger here for a moment.
Now, what does that place evoke in you? What did you feel? What words would you use to describe that experience? Perhaps you would use words like peace, tranquility, grounded. Perhaps there are no words…just a feeling, and that’s fine too. Maybe for you it’s more of a vibe, a hum, or a resonance that you feel coursing around, in and through you. The name that I give to my experience of these types of places is connectedness.
I have vivid childhood memories of laying on my back staring up at a night sky so black with darkness, yet so full of stars that you feel like you are being sucked into the night. I remember doing the same with the northern lights one night as a child and again as a young adult in Northern Alberta. On both instances I was with a friend as we sat silently gazing at the mysterious lights dancing above us. They felt so close that I thought if I reached out my hand I could touch the light, but of course I was so transfixed that I could not move anyway. In those moments I felt a deep connection with the world around me. It was as if I was no longer just staring out at creation, but that I was peering deep into the heart of the mystery of God, the mystery of me and us. In gazing out I was really gazing in.
Christian theologians have a name for this: incarnation.
We tend to limit talk of the incarnation to Christmas, to a baby in a manger, God made flesh. But that’s only part of what the incarnation is about. Yes, the word literally means in or of the flesh, and the concept of the incarnation in Christianity generally refers to the Son of God, Second person of the Trinity, taking on human form in Jesus of Nazareth, an obscure first century Jewish itinerant rabbi.
There is, though, a long line of thought in the Church that acknowledges that this was not the beginning of incarnation but, as Richard Rohr says, only when we first started to take notice of incarnation. In fact, if you look at the beginnings of our passages from Genesis and John’s Gospel you see that incarnation has been a reality from the beginning:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” John 1:1-3
Both the writers of Genesis and John bear witness that in the beginning God created light and all that is. The light that is created is not mere sunlight from a star, for only afterwards are day and night separated. The light referenced here is believed by many Jewish scholars to refer life itself, the light of existence.
It’s hard not to see John referencing this passage in his own beginning. The key word in John’s creation story is the word ‘word’, or logos. This word logos was already in wide use when John took it and used it for his purposes. It’s a philosophical term used to describe the divine reason that brought the world into being and holds it all together. Think divine spark, the flame that ignites the bang, being itself. Think quarks, Higgs bosons, and other subatomic mysteries. Jesus is more than the “word of God” made flesh – Jesus is the Christ; the always was and always will be light of creation; the alpha and omega; beginning and end; the source of life. All that is, is from Christ. That’s some pretty heavy stuff!
Incarnation, is rooted in creation itself, an embodiment, enfleshment, “enmattement”. God is the ground of being from which all life springs and flourishes. Some Christian theologians have gone so far as to say that the universe is the body of God. Creation itself is the first act of incarnation and Jesus is the fulfilment of that incarnation. In Jesus, God enters completely into creation, moves into the neighbourhood, thus fulfilling the incarnation begun at the moment of creation. As Richard Rohr reminds us, “Incarnation is the oldest Christian story. Through Christ, God is pouring God’s self into all of creation. To be a Christian, then, is to see Christ in everyone and everything.”
The Season of Creation is a time of focused reflection on this unfathomable mystery of presence. Words cannot do justice so instead we use the sacraments to try and get at this enigmatic truth. Bread, wine, water, oils and candlelight become a means of proclaiming the truth of God’s presence, not only in this particular piece of bread or font full of water, but in all wheat, water, earth and people. We know that all life, all of it, is sacred. Every rock, river, ocean, tree, cat, dog, squirrel, codfish, seal and every person is holy and comes from God, finding its source in Christ, who is all and in all. The current environmental crisis that we face as a human species should be an affront to us, a scandal. For us this is a theological issue. We should be protesting the loudest and working the hardest to right this wrong. So what will we do?
Rev. Robert Cooke is the Rector of St. Mark’s. This sermon is heavily influenced by the work of Richard Rohr. You can find out more about Father Rohr’s work at the Centre for Contemplation and Action.