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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:
- 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.
- 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.”)
- 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
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?
Para ser ejemplo
No nomas decirnos de lo divino
Pero ser lo divino, divino humano
Para tocarlo, entenderlo, experimentarlo
In the flesh
We see ourselves in the Divine
Lo podemos ser
Nos vemos, nos reconocemos,
humano en lo divino
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
The boundaries are broken
False partitions collapse
Inextricably related – you, me and the Divine
La Divina Encarnada
She took the bread, inextricably connected to her body
She blessed it
Her flesh, her body
False partitions collapse
Share of my substance
Be part of me
Somos del mismo cuerpo
Ama tu cuerpo, su cuerpo
No nos separaremos
Los quien nos quieren separar
Resist those who would separate us
We are of the same flesh
Somos de un mismo cuerpo
Let us all be one with you
Bendita Rara Encarnacion
Sientate con Ella
Sit with Her
Make yourself at home.
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.
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.