The one about…incarnation.

I listened to a podcast this week by Common Thread Church (it’s the church I’d go to if I lived slightly nearer the USA!) They’re on an incredible journey to discover the common thread of the divine which runs throughout all of history. I won’t do it justice but this is a snippet of their thoughts this week…they discussed the idea that we can’t actually think about God, that “God is a cloud of unknowing”…a mind bending concept but let’s go with it for now:

“God on a throne out there in heaven is a story, a story that doesn’t capture God.

God here and now among us, is a story, it’s a story that does not capture God.

All we have are stories to imagine God…we can’t, with any kind of certainty think of God, or speak of God, so all we have are stories but we use stories because stories point us towards spiritual experience, and spiritual experience is profoundly and deeply enriching of the human being, it makes us better people.”*

So how do we grasp concepts of God, how do we encounter spiritual experiences that enrich our souls?

Which is interesting because I was already thinking about incarnation. ‘The embodying in flesh of a deity, spirit or quality’…this idea that God became known as a human so that humanity could know more of God.

Incarnation is the concept we generally apply to Jesus, a man who lived just over 2000 ago, who is believed by many to be God incarnate; the physical, human representation of the higher power or greater consciousness that existed before time. The one of which we can’t really speak…and the one of which John tried to encapsulate in his poetic prose at the start of his writing:

“The true light that shines
on everyone
was coming into the world.

The Word was in the world,
but no one knew him
though God had made the world
with his Word….

…The Word became
a human being
and lived here with us.
We saw his true glory,
the glory of the only Son
of the Father.

From him all the kindness
and all the truth of God
have come down to us.”**

The true light, that greater consciousness physically manifested itself in the world, ‘the word’ (as we talked about last week) already present but yet not seen, not known…so this word, this spirit, this abstract concept love, light, life took on human form and lived with us and because of that we can now see the magnificence, beauty, truth and kindness of that greater consciousness, something which otherwise would have just remained abstract and unreal.

Yet it goes so much further than that because incarnation is something we’re invited to participate in ourselves, this idea that we would take on the form of a specific quality in order to share in the world of another; to be present, to be there alongside, to know and be known, to be able to demonstrate grace to others and know the truth of life beyond our own; that’s what it is to love, to be love in human form.

Which means that whatever your belief about “god” taking on human form and making his dwelling among us, the concept is actually mind-blowingly simple because it’s something that happens everyday.

The Jesus story is, as Richard Rohr would describe, a blueprint for all of humanity…a blueprint; ‘an early plan or design that explains how something might be achieved’. So, there is this plan at work to “save” humanity, not from some devil or vengeful God character but from itself, and the blueprint demonstrates how that greater consciousness has a plan to redeem us from all the hate, hurt, competition, corruption, misconstrued power that we inflict on ourselves and each other.

To follow the blueprint means that we too become love incarnate; to choose to love despite the difficulty, to choose love even though it’s not what we would “naturally do” and to go beyond who we are and choose to bring joy, peace and hope to others. To follow the plan is to choose humility, to value the least, to turn our measures of success and importance upside down, inside out and to choose to love, when we do that, we take that abstract word “love” and we personify, embody, manifest love in the world, which is what John suggests Jesus did.

Which also means that we take that “story” of God and we tell a story that is present here and now in who we are and the way we act. We tell a story, and it will only ever be a story, of how the divine, that higher consciousness, the source of all life, ‘God” is at work in the world and how we experience his presence.

What if that’s incarnation, what if that’s what John was saying, what if that’s what Jesus showed and what if, as we reimagine our understanding of the God character we find there is a reality to these concepts that we otherwise can’t think about.

*. Common Thread Church Weekly Messages: Finding God in the Woods

** John 1, The Bible!




The one about…light and life.

The second part of the bible begins with four stories of the life of Jesus, written by four men Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who all write to different groups of people on different occasions. John however is the only one to start his story with an exploration of the origins of time. At the start his book we’re introduced to the concept of ‘the word’, he writes:

”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

A word, defined as ‘a single, distinct meaningful element of speech or a command, a spoken pronouncement.’ I’m not sure who takes credit for the phrase ”words create new worlds”, it’s been attributed to philosophers including Heschel and Wittgenstein but in my experience, the more writing I do, it seems to be true and it also echoes of the opening chapter of the bible where the author writes ‘and God said’, right there at the beginning was the word, God used the word to speak. Whatever that looks like!
John, goes on to describe this word, this spoken phenomenon, or spirit, this undefinable origin of all things, as the ‘light and life of all of humanity’.

There’s something about the concept of life and light, a deep connection that we know exists and not just because of those days we spent studying GCSE or A level biology (or the equivalent!). Although, when I talk to my teenagers, they can both explain, in a round-about way, the need for sunlight to provide the energy for photosynthesis to take place, with that somewhat familiar formula 6CO2 + 6H2O + light energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2!. In words, the equation translates to the combining of water, carbon dioxide and light energy to produce glucose and oxygen. (Ironically oxygen is described as a waste product, released back into the air while glucose is the source of energy for the plant.)
Simply put though, light energy gives life.

How did John, a fisherman over 2000 years ago know that? I guess because we all sense the importance of light to our wellbeing, we see the effect of light on the world around us and we know it brings life. Maybe we didn’t need science to put it into a formula but as ever, science does help us make sense of it in a more logical fashion.

Light goes way further though than the visible rays that we see, there’s invisible light, infrared or ultraviolet light; wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum that are either too short or too long to be detected by the human eye. Scientists also talk of dark matter, which makes up around 80% of the universe matter that is unseen, made up of particles smaller than atoms, again something that we know exists but something that we can’t see.

Suddenly we’re into physics; wavelengths, spectrums, atoms, particles and all those other words that send a shudder of fear down my spine as I’m suddenly taken back to GCSE science exams not having a clue what to write! Yet there is something fascinating about those concepts, something intriguing about light that we can’t see, or invisible matter, or things that exist but are not visible to our eyes. In those things there’s awe and mystery and magic.

So when John talks about the light shining in the darkness, it seems that’s there is a multitude of levels on which the universe we live in is this beautiful dance between light and dark. In the scientific, the physical, the spiritual, the mental and emotional we all experience light and dark and we need both to really appreciate the other.

From these simple words that open up John’s understanding of the Jesus story we’ve found energy and light and life and matter, seen and unseen, visible and invisible, which is interesting because so far, other than direct bible quotes we haven’t used the word God. Yet what it all suggests is that there is a force at work, even before the beginning of time, that is creating and sustaining life and something that suggests even the darkness belongs and that what might seems dark can also offer light and energy and life.

Which links to the concept of words creating worlds. So often the word God has been held over us by those childhood stories, or the institutions to which we have belonged, both have in some way restricted our view of what and who ‘God’ is, and that word, has become a barrier to so many in exploring spirit, soul and meaning. So, what if, as Richard Rohr explains,

“John is actually describing a bigger life, a bigger light, from which we all draw. This is Consciousness—a pre-existent form that is the Eternal or One Light. This great Light or Consciousness is the source of our little piece of light, as it were.”

What if there’s something in rethinking possibilities in and around the word God and that as we explore what this might all be, we find more meaning and life and energy than we ever thought possible

The one about…light.

It’s incredible how a house becomes a home. Empty rooms, bare walls, a vacant unfurnished space, devoid of any real character takes on a personality and identity as it begins to fill with possessions and people. Our new house felt like home instantly, we all felt it (apart from the dog, but that’s another blog!)

It is perfect for us, size, space, layout, location, it all just works. It’s warm, it’s cosy and it’s light; the light floods in through the kitchen and through the patio doors to the lounge, an incredible contrast to the house we lived in before, tucked away, nestled in between other houses, a beautiful building but cold and dark in comparison to what we now have.

Light; it brightens the room, lifts the mood and warms the space. Light is a gift. I’ve noticed something else about light too though, it shows up every little detail, every spec of dust in the air, every crumb on the work surface and every little piece of dirt on the floor. Light exposes everything.

Many of the world religions celebrate light, the triumph of good over evil represented by the dominance of light over darkness, light is seen as that which shows us the way, whether as in the Hindu tradition of Diwali with Rama and Sita returning home, the celebration of light, or the concept of Jesus as the light of the world, showing the way to live. Light is what guides, what illuminates the path, light is good.
What if three’s far more to light than that? What if in the same way that sunlight shows everything, when we use the word light in relation to religion, it’s there to illuminate everything too, good and bad? What if that’s what Jesus really meant when he said he was the light of the world? What if that kind of light illuminates what we’d rather wasn’t seen, those character traits that we’re not so proud of; our lack of patience, the thought about others that we know we shouldn’t have, the corners we cut or those thoughts we have about ourselves; the self-doubt or unbelief? What if the role of religion is to illuminate all those things for what they are, expose the truth, call it out and call us to be more who we’re capable of being?

Darkness and light both have their place, and sometimes it’s easier to live in the darkness, hiding ourselves away from the realities that we know light would expose. Maybe living in a dualistic world where we have good or bad, light or dark, those who are in or those who are out, isn’t actually healthy for us, maybe a subtle shift in understanding from ‘or’ to ‘and’ would help us see that it all belongs, that there are far more shades of grey in all these areas than the stark contrasts we often box others and ourselves into. Maybe instead of attempting to defeat the darkness we need embrace it and decorate it.

What if to spend time in the light is to make peace with the not so perfect parts of who we are, to accept that it does all belong, to accept that there are elements of our character which aren’t perfect and could be better, aspects that we know we’d like to work on but that we recognise might take a lifetime? What if to spend time in the light, however we do that*, connects us with the way of love, with a higher force or power, something more…what if that in turn connects us more deeply with ourselves, with our soul?

As we get closer to Christmas, as even more lights shine, and we’re reminded of that baby who came as a light to the world; what if we chose to stop, to look at the lights and be reminded that who we are is OK? What if we allow the innocence of that baby to contrast with those characteristics and quirks that we’re not so proud of and allow love to do it’s thing? What if as the light shines on the whole of who we are, we say yes to that love and embrace every detail of ourselves, allowing love and light to show us how we could be yet also learning that to accept ourselves as we are is the only starting point for real growth.
*a walk in the wood, a quiet space at home, church, coffee with a friend, music, art, film, a good book…maybe time in the light is different for everyone!