‘Tis the season for Incarnational Mysticism

One of the core theological ideas of Advent and Christmas is incarnation.  In sum, G-d took human form in the person of Jesus.  John’s Gospel has no nativity scene, but does contain this one-sentence incarnational Christmas story: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1:14 

Some streams of Christianity have emphasized the uniqueness of this event, and thus the exclusiveness of access to G-d through Jesus.  Other streams, including the mystics and many Eastern forms of Christianity, have emphasized incarnation as a continuous reality – ever-occurring events – from the first flaring forth of the universe through the time you’re reading this and beyond.  A fancy Latin name for this is incarnatio continua.  Another name is incarnational mysticism, with mystic signifying one who has an inner experience of union with the Divine.  Or, more modestly, a mystic can be one who has begun to sense the sharp line between themselves and “others,” or “Other,” fade.

For those drawn to Jesus but repelled by Christianity’s exclusive claims, incarnational mysticism can be a godsend.  Ha!  It has been for me.  There’s a big difference between celebrating Jesus as one who exemplifies incarnation, rather than one who holds the monopoly. 

In this stream, a key to the spiritual life is recognizing ourselves – and others – as a site of incarnation.  Carn means “meat,” or “flesh.”  And we are meaty and fleshy beings.  We live in bodies in an embodied world.  It’s in our bodies that we encounter hunger, desire, joy, love, and pain.  It’s also in our bodies that we encounter that which holds us and everything in being.  As we do this, we look to Jesus and the birth in Bethlehem as a guiding star for what all this might look like.  We look to Mary as one who allowed the Word, the Divine Energy, to take form within her body, birthing it as gift for the world.     

This Advent season, as we are “Expecting Emmanuel,” we can do so in the spirit of incarnational mysticism.  We are celebrating a revelation of the vastness and availability of the Love which generates all of us into being.  We not only gaze on incarnation as a historical event, but open ourselves to incarnatio continua, the Divine inhabiting in ever increasing measure our mortal and precious bodies.