The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw – and knew I saw – all things in God and God in all things – (Mechtild of Magdeberg)
For from him and through him and to him are all things. (Romans 11:36)
I laugh when I hear the fish in the water is thirsty. (Kabir)
You might have noticed a very particular line of enquiry in recent posts, trying to relate Inclusion and Incarnation (with a side order of Hell). My observation has been that these 2 great mysteries of Faith are revealing themselves via seemingly unrelated streams of thought and culture. “Inclusion” has come via the likes of Carlton Pearson, Tentmaker Ministries, Martin Zender and a variety of blogging communities. “Incarnation” on the other hand, has been more associated with the “emergent” church, the contemplatives, and the alt.worship communities.
It seemed that the Inclusionists hardly referred to any new practices of worship. In fact, generally speaking the strongest voices for Inclusion are from conservative camps, for example Pearson is a Pentacostal Republican, Louis Abbott a Baptist, and FW Farrar an orthodox Anglican Cannon, and the latter duo, much to my Heterodox chagrin, defend Orthodoxy from within against the “heresies of hell”.
On the other hand, the Emergents don’t seem to have a lot to say on Inclusion. I did however browse to Brian McLarens “The secret message of Jesus” where he intimates that Inclusiveness is a part of Incarnated Emergent Spirituality; the issue also comes up in his “The last word and the word after that”. But I’m not sure how many people really make the connection. You tell me, oh reader, this is a blog after all.
Intuitively I knew that Inclusion and Incarnation were intimately connected. It’s just that my brain hadn’t caught up. I was relaxing in the aftermath of an inspiring gathering (WeTube) and it came to me. The link is in the way that “God is in all, and all is in God”. Technically this can be referred to as panentheism, at the risk of over-intellectualising this powerful vision, this deep connection, with all the Life that it augers.
A year ago I read Matthew Fox’s seminal work “Original Blessing”. His ideas gave me the courage to press on with my investigations. I think many of the answers to my question lie in Fox’s Creation Spirituality. So what is significant about Incarnation and Inclusion, and how does panentheism contribute to the discourse?
Transcendance and Immanence
There are 2 concepts used to help us with the mystery. These are Transcendence (God being separate from the Creation) and Immanence (God being present in the Creation). If we don’t grasp the paradox, strike the balance – the narrow road – between them, we run the risk of perpetrating a dualism quite foreign to the Mission of Jesus.
Starting with Newton (although these schisms can be seen in much earlier thought, for example the Gnostics or the Greeks), the universe was seen to be a machine whose maker cared little for human affairs, and Descartes, whose dictum “I think therefore I am” started us on a road of disconnection and individualism, we began to lose whatever grasp we might have once had of the Mission of Christ. It paved the way for the separation of the material from the spiritual in western society. Transcendence gained the upper hand in the Deism of the Enlightenment, at the expense of Immanence.
It is worth noting here the difference between panentheism (God in all, all in God) and pantheism (God is all, all is God). Pantheistic beliefs tend to honour the world AS god. In pantheism, Immanence is primary and displaces Transcendance.
It is also worth taking account of the scientific point of view here. Lynne McTaggart, in “The Field”, argues that the type of science and philosophy which has held a monopoly on truth in the west for 3 or 4 centuries, is being forced to question its own assumptions about the nature of the cosmos as separated and disconnected. Fascinatingly, curious and open minded experimental scientists are beginning to suggest that the world is much more similar to the biblical or mystical portrayal than has ever been countenanced by science. What the ubiquitous “Zero Point Field” represents may equate to nothing less than universal, cosmic intellegence.
This theory suggests that at a subatomic level, matter is being created continuously, with particles coming into and going out of existence at an astounding rate, billions of times per second. Creation is an ongoing process deeply embedded into the cosmos. There are many who have taken the metaphor that “God rested on the Seventh Day” to mean that Truth is a closed, unchanging, orthodox system.
So if science is moving towards the view that there may be a unifying intelligence underlying all things, why do so many who confess faith have such a difficulty with the concept of unity?
Troubled by the flesh
Many acknowledge that Jesus was God, come into the world as Human. Yet at the same time they also hold that spirit is good and flesh (aka “the world”) is evil. This word “Flesh” represents our quandary as post-Enlightenment Humans. We have a vague theology of Incarnation (literally, “to be made flesh”), but when it comes to it we reject “the flesh” or “the world” based on our particular myths of sin, evil, or hell. Note that myth here denotes a psychological-spiritual complex, and does not simply mean “untrue”. In fact these myths for many westerners loom ominously true.
It is only when we dig deeper and take them apart by reason, intuition, biblical interpretation, and awareness of traditions beyond our own inherited ones, that we begin to see how this “gospel” is not good news at all. Bruce Cockburn in “The gospel of bondage” puts it this way:
You read the Bible in your special ways You’re fond of quoting certain things it says / Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above / But when do we hear about forgiveness and love? / Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you / But if God stays silent, what else can you do / Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you’d surely see / That God won’t be reduced to an ideology / Such as the gospel of bondage…
What is good news is that at a point in time and space, one named “Emmanuel” took delight in walking in our midst. Emmanuel means “God with us” and herein lie the roots of Incarnation. The delight of Jesus has to do with his enjoyment of shared life, of the fabled fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes, the sick and the weak.
Furthermore his wrath was predominantly reserved for those who held to ideologies of Exclusion, the Pharisees (Heb prushim meaning “separated”) and the Sadducees (aristocratic high priests), two quite opposing religious sects (which we tend to lump into one); but both bigots whose pride set them apart from a sinful, or “non-chosen” world. This bigotry finds its ultimate expression in the doctrine of the eternal separation of sinners from god, in hell. I am fairly certain that this myth does not have its root in the books of the bible, when properly read.
So our prime model of Incarnation, Jesus, is characterised by an Inclusive grace, an attitude of forgiveness and love towards creation and all people. It is only by a twisted, fear-based logic, that one could hold that he “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, Taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2) would also be a loathsome Judge who would cast those he loves into eternal torment. Why would a god who bothered including himself in the sin and hellishness of a world fallen from grace, to the extent of dying for it, also be the architect of ultimate exclusion?
Incarnation is by definition an act of inclusion. Until we grasp the implications of Inclusion, our attempts to know the Incarnate God will falter, unable to attain the depth of grace envisioned for us. Once we fully enter the mystery of Incarnation, however, the potential is unleashed. The dualisms of Heaven/Hell, Us/Them, Work/Play, Sacred/Secular, or Faith/Works, fall away, rendered irrelevant by Grace, by a unified view of Life in God.
The All in All
What we desire and what God desires become one and the same, and we are able to “share in the masters happiness”. Our work and creativity need not be constrained by false notions of what is religious or worthy, right or wrong, but becomes an expression of profound breadth. Connections not able to be made because of these exclusive categories of thought can now be forged.
New combinations of imagination, action, culture, and tradition emerge from a multiverse of potential. Relationships between strangers and reconciliation between opposites and enemies become possible. And for one as fussy about authenticity as I am, at last I can see a way to being fully engaged with all parts of my life, without compromising creativity or art, culture or politics, faith or reason, uniting all the disparate elements into a generous whole, and experiencing the freedom to love God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength.
In short, by grasping the twin mysteries of Incarnation and Inclusion, we take forceful hold of The Kingdom of God.