Skyline, Winter - 2009

By Diane Pendola

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Your One Wild and Precious Life


What is Christmas? Yes, it's a Christian holiday. And in the public arena we've moved from wishing people a Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays. I understand the affirmation of pluralism that goes to the heart of this shift and embrace it.  But I think consumerism and the bottom-line goes to its soul, and that I do not hold. There is what Christians call the incarnation, defined theologically as the embodiment of God in the human form of Jesus. This is what Christians celebrate all over the world as Christmas. And then there is the universal fact that we humans are all incarnate beings, embodied and at the same time more than our bodies. We incarnate something "more" within our flesh. We personify something through our lives, through our materiality. What is that something? Personally I think one of the major contributions of Christianity to the rich spiritual repository that has been entrusted to us from all the great spiritual traditions is the incarnation. Raimon Panikkar says it liberates us from living in a merely historical and temporal universe and makes us conscious of our divine dignity. No matter what our spiritual belief or lack thereof, the theological understanding of incarnation can move each one of us to reflect on the meaning of our own incarnation and the divine dignity that moves us to the something "more" that is the potentiality and the fullness our humanity.

Those of you who follow EARTHLINES know that the intercultural philosopher and theologian Raimon Panikkar has been my root teacher. He says that the Christian incarnation is in fact the trinitarian vision of reality. The divine mystery makes itself flesh, makes itself matter... We are not inquiring now whether Christ, the second Adam, assumes nature (in its entirety) or the nature of man as an individual (in his singularity). We do say that the Word's incarnation in Jesus is the revelation of the mystery that has been hidden since the "eternal eons" (Romans 16:25), and that in him we see the fullness of the "last times" (Hebrews 1:2) realized in the head of "creation" (Col 1:15-20). The destiny of the head is one and the same as the destiny of the members, and indeed the whole universe (Romans 8:19-23).

I would like to inquire with you about Christ assuming not only human form in Jesus, but nature in its entirety as the Universal Christ. The first understanding is the more common, but there is a rich theological tradition that Christ takes up the whole of creation as Body, as sacred, divinizing all of creation along with the human, not exclusive to the human. The great Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274),  taught that all of creation was a revelation of God shot through with the fire of divinity. Here is a poetic interpretation of Aquinas' teaching beautifully rendered by Daniel Ladinsky:

Capax Universi

Capax universi, capable of the universe are your arms
when they move with love.

And I know it is true that your feet are never
more alive than when they are in
defense of a good

I want to fund your efforts: Stay near beauty, for she will always
strengthen you.

She will bring your mouth close to hers and
breathe-inspire you the way
light does the

  The earth inhales God, why
should we not do
the same?

This sacred flame we tend inside needs
the chants of every tongue,
the communion with

As capable as God are we.

Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, theologian and scientist is a more contemporary representative of this tradition. In a beautiful book by Ursula King he is quoted as saying: I believe that the universe is an evolution. I believe that evolution proceeds towards the spirit. I believe that spirit is fully realized in a form of personality. I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ.

At this point I imagine you asking, so what does this mean? What does it have to do with me? If we are conscious of our divine dignity as humans as well as the dignity of the whole manifest creation, then what does this imply, concretely, in the real world of our daily lives and decisions? How do we incarnate this divine energy? Does it matter? How does it matter? I want to respond that the incarnation is about us. It's about you and me. It's about how we live our lives. It's about our choices, our consciousness, our capacity for the Universe, our capacity for God and whether or not we choose the "more" of which we are capable. Do we choose the good; choose the true rather than the easy; choose to forgive and be forgiven; choose to see beyond the limits of our bodies to the energy that connects us as one Body? This one Body is what Christians call Christ, but which certainly is beyond any name or concept and therefore has many names and transcends them all. I want to say, Look, we're all in this together! Look, we are all connected just like Chief Seattle in his famous speech said, like blood that unites one family. We are all connected. What we do to one we do to all.

I have been writing EARTHLINES for nearly a decade now. And I am beginning a blog called PRISONLINES. What's the connection between EARTHLINES and PRISONLINES? What's the connection between the eco-contemplative and the social-active; between environmental justice and human justice; between the earth community and the human community? We are all the Body of God. This realization is Christian. It is Taoist. It is Hindu. It is Native American. It is indigenous to every continent and every culture. We are all in this together. Nothing in existence is turned away. (Aquinas)

As I write, leaders from around the globe are gathering in Copenhagen to address the devastating effects of climate change on our planet. The poor countries, who have done the least to bring on the catastrophic effects of drought and coastal flooding that are the results of the warming of earth's temperatures, are the one's who are suffering the most. They implore the wealthier nations to see that we are all connected on this planet, that what happens to Bangladesh happens to New York City; that what happens to the polar bear happens to the human.

The incarnation, which Christians are celebrating now as Christmas, is certainly not about consuming more of the earth in all her vital beauty: her forests, rivers, oceans, creatures, meadows, glens, which is what composes all of our "stuff" in one shape or form.  Nor is it about consolidating power or protecting privilege or supporting a sense of entitlement with new-age jingoism. Nor is it about scape-goating the most wounded and yes, even the most violent, among us by exiling them to the trash-heaps of our prison systems as stand-in retribution for our communal sins of neglect and hard heartedness. The incarnation is about the divine becoming human so that we may rise to the fullness of our humanity and truly incarnate Love in the world. The fundamental evil that besets our incapacity to see the whole...I sometimes get vague and undefined longings to gather a small group of friends around me and...give the example of a life in which nothing would count but the preoccupation with, and love for, all the earth. (Teilhard)

Friends let us be preoccupied with Love for each other and all the earth. This is what we are born for: to incarnate that which saves, divinizes, enlightens and heals; to awaken consciousness that sees the whole and embraces each and every being as an icon of the sacred on its way to infinite mystery. The choice is ours. This is our moment, our incarnation. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?* This is the question of Christmas, Christian or not.


All Raimon Panikkar quotes are from his extraordinary book, Christophany: The Fullness of Man, Orbis Books,  Maryknoll, New York, 2004, p. 128
All quotes regarding Thomas Aquinas are from a beautiful book by Daniel Ladinsky, Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices From the East and West, Penguin Books, New York, New York, 2002, pp. 134 and 121 respectively.
All quotes from Teilhard are from an invaluable little introduction by Ursula King, Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard De Chardin, Orbis Books, 1998, pp. 158 and 105, respectively.
*The quote What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Is from the poem A Summer Day found in House of Light: Poems by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, 1990, p. 60


©Diane Pendola, Winter 2009. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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