As we have just been through the end of the year holiday season I have been reflecting on the Christian holiday of Christmas — the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who this tradition tells us is Emmanuel (the Roman form of the Hebrew Immanuel) or “God is with us”. Although we celebrate this birth on December 25th, most scholars agree that this was not the date of the actual birth. This seems to be where the agreement among scholars ends. Depending on the “clues” followed, the actual birthdate is said to be anywhere between March and October … although there seems to be some agreement that the actual birthdate is sometime in the summer months in Palestine. This is generally attributed to the Christian scripture accounts of the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields, which would not happen in December because that would have been the rainy season. But then, there are those who posit reasonable arguments against this as well. Astrologers assert that the “Star of Bethlehem”, said to have shown over the place of Jesus’ birth, did not actually occur until Jesus was about 2.5 years old. But the consideration that these events were written down decades after they occurred allows for some poetic license in the writing. It is not as if the kind of record keeping existed in those days that we simply assume today. I, for one, have a hard time remembering what I did last month, let alone a decade ago – several decades ago is far beyond what I can remember at all, let alone with any accuracy!
It is generally thought by scholars that the actual date of Jesus’ birth was not deemed important. In fact, December 25th was not celebrated as Jesus’ birth until the 4th century under the reign of the emperor Constantine who had established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. Such a move seems to me to be more motivated by politics than by any act of faith. Somewhere I read that on December 25th we celebrate the event of the birth, not the day of the birth. I think this is a subtle, but important, difference.
I have come to consider the birth of Jesus to be a truly remarkable event in the evolution of humankind. It marks a time when humanity begins to be conscious of a divine presence. I specifically choose to say “a” time rather than “the” time, because I have come aware that there are also stories that pre-date Christianity which also indicate a growing awareness, or consciousness, of the presence of something outside of ourselves that we collectively respond to as the Divine, by whatever name we attribute to this presence. I am not sure the timing of these “coming to awareness-es” holds any particular importance because it seems to me that in terms of eternity, the linear time of this realm holds very little significance.
By far, more importance is given to the resurrection of Jesus after death than his birth. I have long wondered what would have become of Jesus’ teachings if it weren’t for the resurrection after death. Do His teachings only have meaning because of the resurrection? If there was not a resurrection, would HIs teachings have been forgotten? I have read a good bit on this topic and what I come away with is that no one really knows. It has long been my thought that the teachings themselves could stand alone apart from the resurrection. Many would disagree with me.
And so I come to the incarnation. To that time in history (when thinking in linear terms) when the Divine makes the decision to become a part of this worldly existence. As I write that sentence I am struck with the thought … was it the Divine who decided to become a part of this existence, or did we simply evolve a collective consciousness to a point where we became aware of a Divine presence that has always been available? But, these are musings few endure. Most people take an either “I believe” or “I don’t believe” stance in the face of considering the presence fo the Divine in our world.
I am intrigued by the fact that I have learned more about the nature of God in my study of Depth Psychology than I ever did in my years “in religion” – the years I spent in a convent. As I read now about the current workings of the Roman Catholic Church I am taken back to the mid 1980’s when I took my vows as a religious sister. I still can remember signing my vows on the altar during the Mass of my profession. In looking back, I think I must have known how those vows read before I was to sign them, but it was in that moment of signing that I realized I was not vowing myself to God directly, but to the RC Church, and to the community I was entering. As I read now about the convening of synods and what the topics are that will be discussed, I see again that they have little to do with the further development of our knowledge, understanding and relationship to God, but are focussed on the machinations of the organizational church. It seems that very little focus is given to an understanding of the life of the Divine within and among us.
As we entered into the 21st century, I found myself drawn to the work of Carl G. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist who lived and worked from 1875 to 1961. In 2010 I began a doctoral program in Depth Psychology, based on his work. What I found most intriguing, and satisfying, in this study was that Jung explored the idea that each of us, in addition to having a physical body, also has a spiritual aspect. I am admittedly being overly simplistic here, but it was in his work that I found the exploration of what I have come to call a “phenomenology of God” and the relationship between God and the world.
Before the 17th century in Europe the study of the material world and the study of the spiritual world were interrelated, but the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries divided the material from the spiritual. The material world became the realm of science when reason and intelligence ascended to primacy and all that could be known was perceived by our five senses. In the centuries since then, we have developed ways to amplify our senses to extend our knowledge, but it was still our physical senses through which we know the physical world. All matters pertaining to the spiritual realm were relegated to religion and the realm of faith and belief and not knowledge and understanding. As a result we live today in a world where western thought has totally split the material body from the spiritual aspect of our existence. In my own life this played out in my training as a young religious where many teachings centered around the preference for the spiritual over the physical body. The lesson was often: spirit good, body bad.
I wonder if this separation of spirit and body may contribute to the reason why the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection supersedes God’s incarnation. Or, does it reinforce the incarnation of spirit by focussing on the resurrection of the body? A bodily resurrection that is anticipated by the faithful. But such a view seems to keep this combination of body and spirit in the future, something yet to be attained, and to exist in some place other than this world.
In my view, the incarnation of God, the bringing together of body and spirit, is here and now. It is not a future occurrence but happening here in this present time. God IS here now, dwelling both among and within us. That is what the story of the birth of Jesus tells us. But it is not something we can observe and measure with our five senses – well, not yet, anyway. It is my firm belief that the way in which tools such as a microscope or a telescope amplify our sense of sight, or sound amplification our sense of hearing, etc., quantum physics, in time, will amplify our ability to perceive what is only known as mystery to us now, much in the way tools such as the microscope revealed to us worlds we were previously unable to know. This is why, in my estimation, the incarnation of the phenomenon some of us name as “God” is far certainly a miracle and deserves our deep consideration for it is present right here and right now and not in some distant time.
Could you imagine a world wherein we all treated ourselves and each other according to the presence of the Divine within ourselves and each other?