-The annual Festival of Christmas
|Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt-|
Resting in the Heart of Creation
The annual Festival of Christmas invites every man and woman to rediscover the place of God in his or her life. But how do we recognize the presence of God in us. It is only by discovering God’s ineffable and all pervading presence in creation that we are enabled to recognize the reality of that presence within our being at its core. The Bible speaks of creation as an act of God that brought everything into existence through his word. We read in the letter to the Romans 1: 20 “Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, are clearly seen in the things he has made.” Creation, then, has a Creator and this Creator can be known from his creation. We only need to keep our eyes and ears open to the wonder hidden in each created thing in the vast universe to recognize the Hand that brought it all into existence and sustains them in being. Then we shall ever rest in that Heart. I wish to present to you a few quotes from some of the well known men and women from history to corroborate what I have just stated.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “God has written a precious book whose letters are the multitudes of created things present in the universe. For the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message; to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice.”
“Each creature is a witness to God’s power and omnipotence; and its beauty is a witness of the divine wisdom. Every creature participates in some way in the likeness of the divine essence.” Thomas Aquinas
“From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine.” Canadian bishops’ conference
“It is God whom human beings know in every creature.” Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179)
Hildegard is not haunted by any anthropocentrism that has affected thinking in the Church over the last centuries. She interprets the “Word made flesh” of John’s gospel as speaking of the divine presence in nature itself. She writes: “There is no creature that does not have radiance.” By the term radiance, Hildegard refers to the light and illumination that God is. “Just as every ray of the sun is the sun, so every ray of God is God (though not all of God). Thus every creature is a ray of God.”
The name given to the presence of God in the whole of creation in Christian terms is Cosmic Christ. We might say that the Cosmic Christ was first manifested for the first time at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. But the human Incarnation of God took place only about 2000 years ago in Jesus of Nazareth. “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name but the title of his historical and cosmic purpose. Jesus presents himself as the “Anointed one” who was human and divine united in one body. As Richard Rohr OFM, a Franciscan priest who runs a Centre for contemplation in Arizona, USA puts it, “Christ is our short-cut word for the “Body of God” or “God materialized’. This Christ is much bigger and older than either Jesus of Nazareth or the Christian religion
because the Christ is present whenever the material and the divine co-exist, which is always and everywhere. In the last century, Albert Einstein through his theory of relativity showed that matter itself is a form of energy. For all practical purposes, energy is the real world. Everything is both matter and energy. We are therefore living in a Christ-centric world. This realization changes everything. Matter has become a holy thing and the material world is the place where we can comfortably worship God just by walking on matter, by loving it and respecting it. The Christ is God’s active power inside the physical world, the radiance of God, a divine expression of God. “All things were made through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (Col.1: 16-17)
St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) has been called second Christ because he followed the way of Christ in a significant way in the history of the Church. He followed the cosmic or creation-centered tradition of Hildegard that flourished in Rhineland, Germany. Francis grounded his sense of the Cosmic Christ in a struggle for Church reform and renewal. He sought to create a life style that would displace avarice and the systems both of the lingering feudalism and emerging capitalism. His greatest written work, “the Canticle of Brother Sun should be considered through the prism of Cosmic Christ”, says Mathew Fox. “It echoes many of the richest themes of the Cosmic Christ. Francis acknowledged and celebrated divinity in its creative and creaturely manifestations. In his view the divine is incarnated in the flesh of nature.” Can we not say vice versa that from the lap of nature we can leap into the heart of God?
Again the themes of light, splendor and illumination are continued as Francis celebrates the brightness of the moon and the stars. The Cosmic Christ, “the light who enlightens all who have life” is present in all creatures and therefore all creatures are brother and sister to one another. Francis takes seriously the idea of the family of all creation, the interconnectivity of all creatures. All are bound together and connected by the Divine light.
“Divinity is the enfolding and unfolding of everything that is”. He called this process “Learned ignorance.” Divinity is in all things in such a way that all things are in divinity.” (Nicholas of Cusa A German philosopher 1401-1464)
Creatures can be said to be divine, for “whatever is found in creatures is found in the divine. This is to say it is divine. Humans are divine but not fully. We are as it were, a human deity. Humans are also the universe but not absolutely since we are human. Humanity is therefore, a microcosm, a human universe. The divine giver does not give anything other than divinity. But this gift cannot be received as it is given. Therefore, the infinite is received finitely.”
“Every creature is a word of God and a book about God.” (Meister Eckhart)
We read at the beginning of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was made nothing that was made. Jn.1:1-3
Again in Colossians 1: 15 ff we read: “He is the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, rulers, authorities, powers; all things were made through him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”
I want now to draw your attention to the words of 13th century mystic, Mechtild of Magdeburg, who was one of the Beguine mystic women of Germany
“You ask me where God dwells: I will tell you. There is no Lord in the whole world who lives in all his dwellings at once except God alone. One day I saw with the eyes of eternity in bliss and without effort, a stone. This stone was like a mountain and was of assorted colors. It tasted sweet, like heavenly herbs. I asked the sweet stone: Who are you” It replied: “I am Jesus.”What does it imply? The Cosmic Christ is the “I am “in every creature. The divine mystery and miracle of existence is laid bare in the unique existence of each atom, each tree, each bird, fish, dog, flower, star, rock and each human. In the words of Meister Eckhart, “In this breakthrough I discover that God and I are one.” Our lives are stories of how our “I-am-ness” came to be and how it flowers into its own unique and beautiful expression of the divine one, that unique image of God that comes to birth once in a universe in us.
Mechtild of Magdeburg’s greatest statement on the Cosmic Christ is: “The day of my first awakening was the day I saw and I knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” “I who am divine am truly in you. I can never be sundered from you; however far we be parted, never can we be separated. I am in you and you are in me. We could not be any closer. We two are fused into one, poured into a single mould. Thus unveiled we shall remain forever.”
Kabir, an Indian mystic of the 15th century celebrates this when he declares: “I am like a pitcher of clay floating in the water, water inside, water outside. Suddenly with a touch of the Guru the pitcher is broken, Inside, outside, O friends, all is one. The separation between the human and the divine is broken through. As Kabir says, “O friend, Kabir has looked for him everywhere, but to no avail. For Kabir and he are one, not two. When a drop is merged into the ocean, how is it to be seen as distinct?” Divinity is not outside us. We are in God and God is in us. This is the unitive experience of the mystics, East or West. “God is in all things and all things are in God.”
Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who lived in the first half of the 20th century, found Christ present in the entire cosmos, from the least particle of matter to the convergent human community. I recall a personal experience of mine while I stayed in Shantivanam in 1992. We had a satsangh with Fr.Bede during which a lady from USA gave a testimony of her experience with Teilhard de Chardin. When she was a young girl of 13 she happened to go to a park. There she saw an old man, all radiant and smiling going around embracing the trees around. He looked to be full of life and joy. Later on she came to learn that this old man was Teilhard de Chardin.
Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1415) celebrated God in all creatures. “In all my understanding I saw God in a point. In seeing this I saw that God is in all things, God works in creatures because God is the mid-point of everything.” For Julian all creatures are enclosed in Christ at the same time that Christ is in all creatures. “Christ is the one in whom we are all enclosed in the deep wisdom of the Trinity who is our Mother.”
Cosmic Christ is present in the whole of creation in its every part. He is present everywhere, in everything but he cannot be grasped easily. He is the Ground of all existence; he is within all things and above all things and beyond all things. But he cannot be identified with anything. “Without it nothing could exist and without it nothing can be known. It is that by which everything is known which itself remains unknown. “ (Brihadaranayaka Upanishad)
The Incarnation which is the birth of God as man is the mystery that necessarily postulates the mystery of the Cosmic Christ. .“And the Word became flesh; he pitched his tent among us and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son coming from the Father.” (Jn.1:14) Without the historical fact of the Incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth, the whole concept and truth of the Cosmic Christ would fall apart.
The Incarnation was a historical event in space and time, about 2000 years ago as attested to by historians. For Mother Mary who gave birth to the Child Jesus and for Joseph his foster father there was nothing extraordinary happening to them except the coming of the shepherds and of the wise men from the East bringing gifts for the child. They only held on strongly to their faith in God and his word. In the humble circumstances surrounding the historic birth of the Son of God, we see the emptying of the godhead about which St. Paul speaks of in Philippians 2: Jesus, “though being divine in nature, he did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in appearance found as a man.” (Phil.2:6-7). The Son of God divested himself of all glory to become one with the least of his brethren. It was not God entering into a pre-existent human person but on the contrary God assuming human nature in person.
To understand the real truth about the Incarnation, we need to ponder over the effects of it on us as human beings. Incarnation ceases to be merely a historical event in the past which is recalled and applied to our outer lives. There is an inward aspect to it which consists in God entering into Universal human nature which is common to all human beings in space and time. It becomes present here and now when our inner lives are transformed by it. Christ is an irresistible force within us, uniting us with God. Our spiritual life should essentially be God-centered in Christ. We should not see Christ as an external centre of worship and devotion but one with whom we are already united the moment we enter the Ground of the soul. We become sons in the Son.
We are not to be pre-occupied with the historical figure of Christ. As a matter of fact, we do not find in the writings of St. Paul any reference to Christ’s historical life as he had never met him in that form and he did not give it much significance. He knew only the Risen Christ who appeared to him at Damascus. It should be the same with us too. We shall never meet the historic Christ but only the Risen Christ. That encounter is with Christ as a living, active force within us in the present moment rather than in our imagination as Jesus who walked around Palestine.. Rather than follow Christ or believe in Christ, we ought to become Christ. And in becoming Christ we discover the essential paradox of his nature and ours: that we are creatures of the flesh yet destined for the immortal life of the spirit. As the Psalmist says, “You are gods, you are all sons of the most high but you shall die like other mortals” (Ps.82:6-7.) Here is the paradox of our existence. It is the paradox of Christ once we become one with him in the Soul’s Ground. Jesus is the archetypal human being, the basic pattern we are all faithful copies of in some way or other. The fact that we are historical cannot be ignored but every one of us is destined to transcend history, space and time. As historical persons possessing a physical body, our life line with God is the breath of life that is drawn into our lungs throughout the length and breadth of each day. If our awareness is focused on it we maintain that link with divinity consciously. We shall soon become aware that the sound of our breathing is indeed the name of Jesus. (Ye…su)
Evelyn Underhill, a modern writer on mysticism grasped this sense of the Cosmic Christ yearning to be born when she said: “The Incarnation, which is for popular Christianity synonymous with the historical birth and earthly life of Jesus Christ, is for the mystic not only this but also a perpetual Cosmic and personal process. It is an everlasting bringing forth, in the universe and in the individual ascending soul, of the divine and perfect life, the pure character of God.” Evelyn Underhill“People think God has become a human being there – in his incarnation – but that is not so; for God is here – in this very place – just as much incarnate as in a human being long ago. And this is why God has become a human being; that God might give birth to you as the only begotten Son, and as no less”, says Meister Eckhart. He celebrates the human person as the full growth of the seed of God. “The seed of divine nature is the Son of God, the Word of God. The seed of God is in us… Now the seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree…the seed of God into God. It is given to every person to become the child of God, substantially indeed in Christ, but in himself or herself by adoption through grace.”
The divinity and humanity of Christ has to be held in right balance to have a correct notion of Christ and ourselves. If we want to know what it truly means to be human, Jesus is the supreme example and demonstration. Over emphasis of Jesus’ divinity would be at the expense of his humanity. We would have difficulty in reconciling ourselves with the physical elements in him as well as in ourselves. If, on the other hand, we stress the humanity of Christ at the expense of his divinity we would lose sight of the transcendent element. It is very hard to face the fact for a being who is both divine and human, spiritual and material, mortal and immortal. The temptation is always to simplify the picture, to get rid of the painful paradox by suppressing one of the components. A being who is wholly spiritual and divine, will not be troubled by the humiliating worldly facts of suffering, weakness and death. That is what a Hindu friend of mine in Tiruvannamalai said when I told him about Christ’s sufferings on the cross: “Father, if Christ were to be God he could not have suffered.” On the other hand, a being who belongs entirely in this world can cheerfully get on with the task of improving his environment without being distracted by thoughts about the beyond. To accept both the elements of the paradox, to recognize their truth and to attempt to live them is difficult and uncomfortable. However, it is the only way open to truth and life. If we accept this fact about Jesus of Nazareth, we ought to accept the same in the reality of our being too.
Jesus of Nazareth is supremely mysterious and the same is true in our case too. No final statement can be made on who or what Jesus is and the same about us too. No statement can give complete and full expression to what Jesus is because he remains a mystery beyond human comprehension. But once we stop seeing Jesus as a mystery, we shall stop seeing ourselves too as a mystery. When I stop thinking that I know myself and others, then there is a chance that some real knowledge might begin to grow. The paradoxical nature of Christ and ourselves must be recognized before any true knowledge of both is possible.
A distinction must be made between Jesus of Nazareth and the Risen Christ who “fills the Universe.” The latter and the Christ we are in touch with today is the Cosmic Christ. He is the One spoken of by Prophet Jeremiah: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” (Jer.23:23-24). Cosmic Christ is that which connects everything in creation. He is the divine pattern that connects in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus offered connections to the dispossessed in particular: to the lepers, women, slaves, sinners and the outcastes of society. He did this by undergoing the death of the unconnected, the death of the dispossessed on Calvary. The Cosmic Christ liberates all persons and, like Moses of old, leads a new exodus from the bondage of a mechanistic universe, of competitions, dualisms and anthropocentrism that pictures the universe bereft of mystery and mysticism. The Cosmic Christ represented in Jesus connects the poverty of the materially impoverished with the poverty of the impoverished. Thus all suffering and all poverty is connected as is all glory and all beauty. Suffering is not piecemeal; it is not meaningless. All suffering is coherent; it coheres in the Cosmic Christ (who is crucified and wounded) and it coheres in divinity as well as in humanity. When we hear of suffering anywhere it has to be recognized as suffering of the Cosmic Christ. As in the narrative of the Last judgment, anyone suffering is identified with Christ. (Mathew 25: 31-46)
Cosmic Christ is everywhere. “The entire planet is anointed and messianic,” says Fr.Richard Rohr. “All bears the Christ mystery. The whole point of going to communion in church is to sacramentalize the universe. We are in communion when we are in nature as well. We must tune in to our ability to see beyond the physical reality that surrounds us, and awaken to the vast unseen world that exists. Then we can begin to see beyond sight and to hear beyond sound. We see the underlying structures that support our world and life begins to take on a new shape, new meaning. When we live as multi-sensory beings, we find that we are able to comprehend the language of every living thing. We hear the voices of trees, and understand the buzzing of the bees. And we come to realize that it is the interwoven substance of these floating rhythms that hold us in delicate balance with all life. Then, our life and our place in creation begin to make sense in a whole new way. Our vision expands to see the overall order of our path and tunes into a whole new source of information.”
When we are at peace, when we are not fighting it, when we are not fixing it and controlling this world, we are not filled with anger, all we can do is start loving and forgiving. Nothing else makes sense when we are alone with God. All we can do is to let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need. It is in that free space that realignment happens.
Nature is not outside of us but part of us and we must interact with it with love and care for it instead of seeking to dominate it. In 1990, indigenous leaders spoke at a global conference on the environment and provided a hopeful vision for the future:
“We have jeopardized the future of our coming generation with our greed and lust for power. The warnings are clear and time is now a factor…We speak of our children, yet we savage the spawning beds of the salmon and herring, and kill the whale in his home. We advance through the forests of the earth, felling our rooted brothers indiscriminately, leaving no seeds for the future. We exploit the land resources of the poor and indigenous peoples of the world. We have become giants of destruction. We must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things, have compassion for the poor and the sick, respect and understanding for women and female life on this earth that bear the sacred gift of life. We must return to the prayers, ceremonies, meditations, rituals and celebrations of thanksgiving which link us with the spiritual powers that sustain us and by example, teach our children to respect.”
It does not suffice that we are aware of Cosmic Christ in the outer world; the Cosmic Christ has to be born anew in us as Meister Eckhart pointed out: “What good is it to me if the Son of God was born to Mary 1400 years ago (for us 2021 Years) but is not born in my person and in my culture and in my time?” The name Christ means “the Anointed one” All of us are anointed ones but we must know it and recognize it; those who do, Meister Eckhart calls “the enlightened ones.” We are called to radiate the divine presence to and from one another. As we read in 2 Cor.3:18 “And we with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the glory of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect.”Humanity has the responsibility to increase the glory that is the divine presence in the cosmos. Teilard de Chardin thought that “besides his mystical body, Christ also has a cosmic body spread throughout the universe. And just as the mystical Christ has still to attain his full growth, so too has the cosmic Christ. “We are all meant to be mothers of God,” as Eckhart would have it. We are called to birth the Cosmic Christ in self and society. We are called to be patterns that connect and bearers of coherence to a society of separation.
Paul celebrates the theme of our being other Christ and our growing into other Christ when he says, “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me.’ (Gal.2:20). He sees his work of preaching the Good news as that of giving birth to the Christ. “I must go through the pain of giving birth to you all over again Until Christ is formed in you” (Gal.4:19). Jesus then becomes two persons for us. First he is the crucified one who lives in all of us. Second he is the power of the mystical life resurging in all of us. Because he is the one who denies death, he is the one who calls us to life and to resurrection, to mysticism and the connection to all that is. The Cosmic Christ assures us that nothing is trivial for nothing is unconnected to the whole. All is a source of awe, wonder, wisdom and the presence of the divine. All is revelation; all is unfinished; all is “eagerly waiting for God to reveal the divine sons and daughters…From the beginning until now the entire creation as we know, has been groaning in one act of giving birth” (Rom.8:19, 22)
The Cosmic Christ is present wherever there is pain. The Cosmic Christ unites all this pain in the one divine heart, in the one divine but wounded body of the Christ which is the body of the universe. The Cosmic Christ is the crucified and suffering one in every culture, just as much as the Cosmic Christ is the radiant one, the divine mirror glittering and glistening in every creature. Divinity is not spared suffering – that is the lesson of the Cosmic Christ who suffers. Wherever injustice reigns, the Cosmic Christ is crucified again. This means that wherever justice is fought for and prevails, wherever healing takes place and is passed on, wherever compassion prevails, the Cosmic Christ is healing, redeeming and liberating in a cosmic scale. The Cosmic Christ leads the way to cosmic redemption.
Cosmic Christ leads us to true mysticism. The first meaning of mysticism is experience. As Kabir, the great creation mystic of India put it, “I say only what I have seen with my own eyes, and you keep quoting the scriptures! Experience, O seeker, is the essence of all things.” The mystic is keen on the experiences of the divine and will not settle for theory alone. “Taste and see the Lord is good,” said the Psalmist on knowing about the divine. Our mystical experiences are unitive experiences; the experiences of non-separation, of non-dualism. As Julian of Norwich put it, “Between God and the soul there is no between.” The saint is celebrating the end of the primary dualism – that between humans and divinity. Mysticism announces the end of alienation and the beginning of communion. Yet it is not the loss of self or dissolution of differences. Eckhart says that “the soul becomes God but God does not become the soul.” There is unity in diversity, diversity in the union of love.
I want to conclude by placing before you the most important quality that serves as the binding glue which brings about this all important union between the Creator and the creature as well as between creatures themselves. It is the supreme quality of Love. Yes, it is love that is the underlying force behind the mystery of the universe and of creation.
The letter that Albert Einstein, the great scientist wrote to his daughter towards the end of his life explains this superbly.
“There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE. When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light that enlightens those who give and receive it. Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love we live and die. Love is God and God is Love. This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will. To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation. If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits. After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer. Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet. However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released. When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.” This is indeed a significant message left for us from Einstein.
Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, INDIA.
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