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Fr. Richard Rohr

Fr. Richard Rohr

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Creation as the Body of God

Posted: 03/ 4/11 09:00 PM ET

"Creation is the primary and most perfect revelation of the Divine." -- Thomas Aquinas

"God remains in immediate sustaining attentiveness to everything that exists, precisely in its 'thisness.'" -- John Duns Scotus

The Incarnation of God did not happen in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. That is just when we started taking it seriously. The incarnation actually happened 14.5 billion years ago with a moment that we now call "The Big Bang." That is when God actually decided to materialize and to self expose.

Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and "every kind of wild beast" according to our own creation story (Genesis 1:3-25). This was the "Cosmic Christ" through which God has "let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made from the beginning in Christ" (Ephesians 1:9). Christ is not Jesus' last name, but the title for his life's purpose. Jesus is the very concrete truth revealing and standing in for the universal truth. As Colossians puts it, "He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation" (1:15), he is the one glorious part that names and reveals the even more glorious whole. "The fullness is founded in him ... everything in heaven and everything on earth" (Colossians1:19-20). Christ, for John Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308) was the very first idea in the mind of God, and God has never stopped thinking, dreaming, and creating the Christ. "The immense diversity and pluriformity of this creation more perfectly represents God than any one creature alone or by itself," adds Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) in his Summa Theologica (47:1).

For most of us, this is a significant shaking of our foundational image of the universe and of our religion. Yet if any group should have come to this quite simply and naturally, it should have been the three groups of believers that call themselves "monotheists". Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe that the world was created by one God. It would seem to follow therefore that everything, everything without exception, would bear the clear imprint and likeness of the one Creator. Doesn't that seem to follow? How could we miss that? After all, we believed that One God created everything out of nothing.

We must realize what a muddle we have got ourselves into by not taking incarnation and the body of God seriously. It is our only Christian trump card, and we have yet to actually play it! As Sally McFague states so powerfully, "salvation is the direction of all of creation, and creation is the very place of salvation." (The Body of God, p. 287) All is God's place, which is our place, which is the only place and every place.

In the 4th century St. Augustine said that "the church consists in the state of communion of the whole world" (Ecclesiam in totius orbis communione consistere). Wherever we are connected, in right relationship, you might say "in love," there is the Christ, the Body of God, and there is the church. But we whittled that Great Mystery down into something small, exclusive, and manageable too. The church became a Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant private club, and not necessarily with people who were "in communion" with anything else, usually not with the natural world, animals, with non-Christians, or even with other Christians outside their own denomination. It became a very tiny salvation, hardly worthy of the name. God was not very victorious at all.

Our very suffering now, our condensed presence on this common nest that we have fouled, will soon be the one thing that we finally share in common. It might well be the one thing that will bring us together. The earth and its life systems on which we all entirely depend (just like God!) might soon become the very thing that will convert us to a simple Gospel lifestyle, to necessary community, and to an inherent and universal sense of the holy.

I know it is no longer words, doctrines, and mental belief systems that can or will reveal the fullness of this Cosmic Christ. This earth indeed is the very Body of God, and it is from this body that we are born, live, suffer, and resurrect to eternal life. Either all is God's Great Project, or we may rightly wonder whether anything is God's Great Project. One wonders if we humans will be the last to accept this.

"From the beginning until now, the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth, and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan inwardly, as we wait for our bodies to be set free" (Romans 8:22-23). It seems that St. Paul is saying here that we human ones might be the last ones to jump aboard God's great plan. There is the groaning of growing in all of creation, and the groaning of resisting and "waiting" in us humans.

All of creation, it seems, has been obedient to its destiny, "each mortal thing does one thing and the same ... myself it speaks and spells, crying 'What I do is me, for that I came'" (Gerard Manley Hopkins, When Kingfishers Catch Fire). Wouldn't it be our last and greatest humiliation, surely the "first being last," (Matt. 20:16) if we one day realized that all other creatures have obeyed their destiny unblinkingly and with trustful surrender. Watch the plants and animals!

It is only humans who have resisted "the one great act of giving birth," and in fact have frequently chosen death for themselves and for so many others.

Radical Grace, April-May-June, Volume 23, Number 2, 2010. Used with permission.