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Essay

Incarnation: Theology in the Body.

By December 28, 2011 2 Comments
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The incarnation – This is the heart of my theology. The flesh: body, feelings, thinking, desire, touching, fighting colds, crying because of joy, butterflies in the stomach, eating healthy foods, drinking bold red wines, bruised knees, the mystery of walking on the sacred ground, and all the other many wonderful and difficult experiences that it goes through. This is the flesh that Jesus, that God, put on. In Jesus, the incarnate Word, we see the affirmation of the body, an affirmation we must not quickly gloss over. As much as we want to squirm because it’s easier for us Reformed types to keep our theology in our immaculate thinking, we need to sit with this incarnation and try on its means for us today. So get comfortable, sip on that delicious tea, and keep reading.

Too often in Protestant thinking we have divorced the sacred mystery of the body and privileged the detailed processing of the mind. We have a “thought” theology with our brains, forgetting we have an entire body made for a “lived” theology. Our bodies are to embody the truths of what we believe. I promise you, I’m not trying to get out of the hard work of thought-filled theology – I deeply value good thinking and well thought out-processing – but I don’t want my theology to end in my mind. I want it to translate into my being and into my doing; I want theology that uses my hands, that walks in my feet, that makes its way into the food I ingest into my stomach and in every sinew of my flesh. I want to incarnate the beliefs I hold to be so deeply true in the way my body takes up space in this world.

I am grateful that we have the liturgical season of Christmas that gently and vulnerably reminds us of the centrality of the body in our Gospel message. God incarnates the flesh in the dark mysterious womb of a woman – solely dependent on the maternal for his life. Christ is birthed into this world, just like you and me, through the tearing of skin, soaked in bodily fluids he had called home for forty weeks. Jesus first words spoken were of the cries of him wanting his mother’s breast for food and his father’s arms to be embraced. (So much for the whole “no crying he makes” myth.) There were no words of assurance, there were no words of absolution, there were no words of peace, but instead the first words of our incarnate God were of crying and cooing. As I reflect on the early years of Jesus’ body I am reminded that the way of true humanity is first through the vulnerability of birth. God’s solidarity with us is in our humanity.

The body is something I reflect on a quite a bit. As a female I am inundated with numerous images of what my body should look like and be in this world. So instead of letting the latest Cosmopolitan or Good Housekeeping magazine inform my self-agency I am disciplined about welcoming Jesus (or least my understanding of Jesus) to inform my fleshly involvement in this world. Trust me, this is easier said that done; just ask any of the women in your life.

So let me offer some personal reflections on how the incarnation influences how I embody the theology of the Gospel:

  1. The vulnerability of the baby Jesus confronts me with the lies of the autonomous self that I so quickly buy into. As one seminary professor once lovingly reminded me, the move I need to constantly be making in life is one from independence to interdependence. My privilege as a white woman in this society is something that can easily blind me from the reality of what it means to be vulnerably in need. 
  2. The incarnation influences what foods I eat. My husband and I are making the conscious choice to become vegetarians in 2012 out of faithfulness to the rhythms we believe God is calling us to embody. (We’re calling it “The Year of the Carrot.”)
  3. The incarnation of Jesus influences me that theology needs to come out in movement. I have a (mostly) daily habit of running or walking in order to get my heartbeat thumping. I don’t know if Jesus ran (sometimes I like to imagine he did) but surely we see numerous times that Jesus walked. Let us follow and embody his footsteps, literally.

I’m curious how the incarnation inspires, challenges, confronts, and affirms you. I’m curious if the body is something you reflect on theologically and spiritually.  Since I happen to believe that the way of Christianity is always about transformation because of experiencing the Divine in our life, how does the incarnation transform you and your patterns?

I like to read a variety of blogs. This poem was recently posted on a blog I just discovered. It is a bi-lingual interpretation of the incarnation. I offer it to you as another way to reflect on the incarnation. May you know God’s abundant grace to you as you encounter the incarnation and are inspired by the Holy Spirit to partake in transformation.

Rara Encarnación by Xochitl Alvizo

 Encarnación

The Word became flesh

Why is it always a word?

Did the Divine listen first?

Hear-ing into be-ing…

Or just speaking into being?

in

to

flesh

Carne

Para ser ejemplo

No nomas decirnos de lo divino

Pero ser lo divino, divino humano

En carne

Para tocarlo, entenderlo, experimentarlo

In the flesh

We see ourselves in the Divine

Lo podemos ser

Divina humanidad

Nosotros

Dios

Nos vemos, nos reconocemos,

humano en lo divino

Raro

Bendita Semejansa en carne propia

Word became flesh and made herself at home among us

She made her home…in our flesh

Divino Jesus Hombre Terrenal

Queer

The boundaries are broken

False partitions collapse

Inextricably related – you, me and the Divine

La Divina Encarnada

Jesus

She took the bread, inextricably connected to her body

She blessed it

Her flesh, her body

Extended it

False partitions collapse

Take, Eat

Share of my substance

Be part of me

Jesus Terrenal

Buenas noticias!

Somos del mismo cuerpo

Ama tu cuerpo, su cuerpo

Mi cuerpo

No nos separaremos

Los quien nos quieren separar

Los resistiremos

Expansive Divine

Resist those who would separate us

We are of the same flesh

Somos de un mismo cuerpo

Buenas noticias!

Let us all be one with you

Bendita Rara Encarnacion

Strange Incarnation

Sientate con Ella

Sit with Her

with you

Listening

Make yourself at home.

Strange Incarnation

Indeed

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.

2 Comments

  • Dick Van Dop says:

    There is a lot to chew on and digest in there and if we do so carefully, we will find it both nutritious and delightful.

  • Leanne Van Dyk says:

    I, too, find the Incarnation very powerful and evocative. I like the ways, Jess, you identify how the Incarnation influences your daily lived experiences. I find one of the most poignant implications of the Incarnation is that this confession of our faith must inevitably lead to the care of other bodies. We honor our own bodies – but we also are called to honor other bodies. When a parent gently soothes an infant by humming and rocking, when a nurse practitioner creates a splint for a sprained wrist, when a home health worker attends to the needs of those in pain or advanced in years, when an embrace or a touch soothes loneliness, when all uncounted acts of comfort or healing or help are extended to another, when these things happen, we echo God's own giving and loving and serving in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

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