December 7, 2017 by Ilia Delio
In this blog Ilia Delio expands on Diarmuid O’Murchu’s recent Omega Center contributions on incarnation, and offers her thoughts on the “hidden depth to matter.” (See also Diarmuid O’Murchu’s blog on INCARNATION AS EMBODIMENT OF SPIRIT, and audio interview EXPANDING OUR VIEW OF INCARNATION.)
Diarmuid O’Murchu has written a very accessible book on incarnation and evolution that awakens us to the vitality of change and newness (Incarnation: A New Evolutionary Threshold). Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote that encapsulates the main ideas of the chapter. I was struck by a quote at the beginning of Chapter Five that states: “The trouble with some of us is that we have been inoculated with small doses of Christianity which keep us from catching the real thing.” What is the “real thing” of Christianity? Diarmuid has said time and again that Christianity is not a static, fixed, disembodied religion. Evolution releases Christianity from the grip of Greek metaphysics. The Christian position overturns the Greek ideal: God is not opposed to matter because God has entered into matter. We still cannot get our heads around the fact that matter matters to God, which means the body matters to God, sex matters to God, body-piercing matters to God, transgendering matters to God—essentially—anything we do to matter matters to God. This is the core of the doctrine of the Incarnation in which God and material reality are fully united without change, division, separation, or confusion. The doctrine, formulated at Chalcedon in 451 AD, was an astute way of saying that God does not become matter (pantheism) but God is united with matter (panentheism). God is one with matter so that matter is more than mere materiality; matter bears the depth and breadth of God within it without absorbing God or collapsing God into it. In fact, it is precisely because God is a personally communicative God [which we name as Trinity] that God can become something other than God. This is the paradoxical mystery of the incarnation and if you try to figure it out logically you will fail miserably. One must stand within the tension of the paradox by being at home in the mystery. And by this I mean that one must simply stand still for a moment and gaze on the rich variety of life in wonder and awe. There is a hidden depth to matter, an elusive breadth undergirding the material world which we call spirit. Spirit, Diarmuid tells, is another name for evolution; it is the energy of newness and openness that empowers the material world to move forward in oneness, truth, and beauty. This spirit-breathing-life is God’s presence in matter.
…one must simply stand still for a moment and gaze on the rich variety of life in wonder and awe.
Teilhard de Chardin once asked: “Who will give evolution its own God?” We have yet to fully address this question because we dread giving up our static, fixed God. But Diarmuid enters into this question. God is spirit and God’s spirit is breathing new life in and through matter. While this may not sit well with atheists or strict materialists we must face the fact that science can tell us a lot of things about carbon bonds or quarks and energy but it cannot tell us why nature bears an openness to change. There is no adequate scientific reason to explain novelty in nature. Nature is entangled in mystery and the more scientists try to unravel the mystery the deeper they find themselves in mystery. For the nature of nature is not another nature but something other than nature, which we name as God. God, at the heart of nature, is the dynamic impulse of evolution.
Alfred Whitehead once noted that if God is creator and creation is evolution, then God cannot be an exception to evolution’s principles but must be its chief exemplar. Hence if evolution is marked by openness, change, novelty, and becoming then so too is God. Our God is an open God, a changing God, a novel God, a God who is becoming in and through cosmic life. This is the core meaning of incarnation; it is the story of Christmas. And, I think, this is what Diarmuid is getting at. We cannot stay in an anxiety-ridden, fear-driven world; we are material beings and in and through us God is doing new things.
…in and through us God is doing new things.
We cannot know this mystery of Christ as a doctrine or an idea; it is the root reality of all existence. Hence we must travel inward, into the interior depth of the soul where the field of divine love is expressed in the “thisness” of our own, particular lives. Each of us is a little word of the Word of God, a mini-incarnation of divine love. The journey inward requires surrender to this mystery in our lives and this means letting go of our control buttons. It means dying to the untethered selves that occupy us daily; it means embracing the sufferings of our lives, from the little sufferings to the big ones, it means allowing God’s grace to heal us, hold us, and empower us for life. It means entering into darkness, the unknowns of our lives, and learning to trust the darkness, for the tenderness of divine love is already there. It means being willing to sacrifice all that we have for all that we can become in the power of God’s love; and finally it means to let God’s love heal us of the opposing tensions within us. No one can see God and live and thus we must surrender our partial lives to become whole in the love of God. When we can say with full voice, “you are the God of my heart, my God and my portion forever” then we can open our eyes to see that the Christ in me is the Christ in you. We are indeed One in love.
Ilia Delio, OSF is a Franciscan Sister of Washington, DC and American theologian specializing in the area of science and religion, with interests in evolution, physics and neuroscience and the import of these for theology. and the inspiration behind the Omega Center website. Please see our page dedicated to sharing Ilia’s background and expansive volume of work HERE.