The great synthesis

Wed 13th Jan
Jesus is the great synthesis for us, the icon of the whole mystery–all at once. “In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your own fulfillment” (Colossians 2:9-10). Despite this, Christianity has relegated the body to a shadowy realm. We are clearly not very at home in our bodies. But Jesus came to show us that it is our human experience that we must and can trust. It is our necessary and good beginning point. In fact, after the incarnation, the material world necessarily becomes the privileged place for the divine encounter. But most of us are still shooting for the stars. We are looking at ascents and “higher states of consciousness” and moral perfectionism, while Jesus quite simply comes “and lives among us.”

Religious images were once quite erotic: passionate, suffering, naked, bleeding, familial, and relational. Catholicism at its best understood this very well, especially in art and the use of relational language: father, sister, mother superior, brother. Sacramentalism was overwhelmingly tactile, liturgy was drama, and music was sensuous and satisfying. Eventually many of the religious images were hidden in cathedral basements. However, through the research of art historians the older tradition is being brought to light: the still scandalous tradition of the enfleshment of God. [1]

I imagine you may be thinking and feeling, “This is dangerous stuff!” And it is dangerous stuff, but so is the Gospel itself. Just as we have domesticated the Gospel to make it into a means of social order and control, we have also avoided the scandal of the incarnation to avoid God in the material world or, as Mother Teresa put it, “in his most distressing disguise.” If you think we are moving far from orthodoxy, just look at that perennial touchstone of orthodoxy, the Eucharist. [2] There it is again: Real Presence in physical bread and intoxicating wine! “Body of Christ” we say, as we place the bread in the hands or mouths of believers. The act is intentionally shocking, sexual, oral, mystical, and momentous. Only after thousands of “communions” does its truth dawn on us, and the mystery of God’s incarnation in Christ then consciously continues again on this earth. We bear the mystery of God.

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