Traditionally, the word Incarnation denotes the coming of God into our world in the person and life of Jesus, which happened for the first and only time 2000 years ago.
I want to challenge the narrow reductionism of the inherited tradition, and instead, offer an evolutionary perspective in which we understand Incarnation as a process of embodiment that has been going on for billions of years, a flourishing that continues through the expanding and increasing complexity of the evolutionary process itself.
Firstly, I am proposing that we understand Incarnation in its foundational meaning of embodiment. To adopt a phrase often used by the Canadian theologian Sallie McFague, God loves bodies! And the first and oldest body through which God reveals Godself is not the human, but the cosmos itself. Then God’s revelatory creativity is manifested in and through all the galactic and planetary bodies, including our Home Planet the Earth. And within our Earth are several embodied forms, mountains, lakes, plants, animals, even bacteria. Last of all are those embodied creatures we call humans, whose deepest identity is that of Earthlings, and not merely ensouled creatures somewhat suspended above the earth.
Divine Spirit cannot achieve anything without body. Body is the medium through which Spirit works, through which everything in creation grows and flourishes.
The notion of God as Spirit, what Christians call Holy Spirit, is usually understood as the opposite of all embodied forms, and cannot function till Jesus has first lived, died, and is risen from the dead. However, the book of Genesis makes abundantly clear that the Spirit is active at the dawn of creation; what’s more, it is the Spirit who draws forth the order, beauty, and meaning from the foundational chaos.
According to first nations/indigenous peoples, it is the Spirit that comes first – the original Incarnation, and we access (experience) the power of such Spirit through the living land itself—an insight that should not be confused with pantheism, or any denial of divine transcendence. Instead it strikes me as a far deeper—and in a mystical way—of understanding the embodiment of God as a central focus of faith.
God’s embodiment in the human does not begin with Jesus of Nazareth, nor with a non-evolutionary understanding of the human, dating our species to a mere 5-10 thousand years. Instead we need an enlarged view of God’s embodiment in the human stretching right back to 7 million years ago, the current paleontological date for human origins.
Why then did Jesus come on earth just two thousand years ago? I suggest we are marking an axial time in which the coming of Jesus signifies an affirmation, confirmation, and celebration of all that has evolved in and through our humanity over 7 million years. For most of that time we got it right—precisely because we remained very close to the earth and the natural cycles of creation. In other words we were much more closely attuned to the Great Spirit of earth, land, and soil.
Contrary, therefore, to conventional salvation-history, Jesus did not come to rescue us from anything! Salvation becomes our primary responsibility through learning afresh what it means to be authentically human upon our Spirit-infused earth. Jesus achieved this integrity in a uniquely remarkable way, leaving us a blueprint on how to become incarnational people in a more authentic way.
Listen to a follow-up Omega Center interview with Diarmuid O’Murchu here: EXPANDING OUR VIEW OF INCARNATION