“The daily practice of incarnation — of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of flesh — is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, from An Altar in the World p. 43)
I have been thinking often about Advent, the church season, and wondering again what it means, how to capture it, how to live well in the season. And I thought about it again as I read this chapter in Taylor’s book this morning. Maybe I am getting ahead of the measured progression through Advent by writing about incarnation now. Or maybe incarnation is the whole point of the season.
I didn’t think about this at the time, but I had a strange experience of incarnation a few days ago. It was in the midst of a terrifyingly intense conversation with a friend, during which I felt exquisitely challenged to speak truth with love into a relationship that, until then, had not invited that depth of honesty. In that “midst,” I was aware of my body, pressed as far into the armrest of the couch as possible, and my heart rate, which felt so quickened that I discretely pinched my wrist to feel my pulse, and my breathing, which I sought to attend to in a yogic attempt at calm and self-soothing.
My body was the means through which I engaged in this conversation, in this relationship. My body responded to the anxiety and intensity I felt. And it was also through my body, my mouth, mind, heart, that words and truth and love issued.
Is it too crazy to say that Jesus, His essence, His love, became embodied again in my body?
Yet isn’t that the mystery and miracle that we remember with such reverence during Advent? Hugely massive all-powerful all-Holy God took on a created body and walked among us, walked the journey that we walk, from messy, bloody birth to painful, sorrowful death. And then He said we would do the same thing. Live with God inside of us. Embody God.
Elizabeth Gilbert quotes the Hindu guru Swami Muktananda in Eat Pray Love when she marvels, “God dwells within you, as you.”
And I think of that conversation a few days ago again. I didn’t see Jesus there with us with my eyes, but a few times I knew with a deep intuition that He was there. He didn’t appear in a vision and speak audibly. But I spoke and stumbled and tripped over words of love and honesty and probably messed up, but overall, as best as I could, I spoke Jesus-language.
Incarnation. God in body, embodied, in Jesus, in us. I am not God, but He is in me. Through my body, He interacts with this small corner of the world.
This is all so crazy-amazing. Isn’t it?
Welcome to Advent.