One way of praying with scripture is what is sometimes called Ignatian meditation—after St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. In this way of praying we put ourselves into the story as one of the characters and begin to imagine all the details—a kind of cinematography of the mind.
So, in this story of the Annunciation we might imagine that we are Mary. Are we indoors or outdoors? What are the colors, textures, sounds, smells? What does it feel like being greeted by an angel? To hear this news? What does it feel like to say those pivotal words: be it unto me according to your word? What does it feel like to suddenly be pregnant—and not yet married? Our prayer, then, emerges from this imaginative engagement with the story.
Or, we might take the role of Gabriel. What are we wearing? How wide are those wings? What is it like to leave heaven and come to earth? What does it feel like to be the messenger of such astonishing news? The camera of the mind rolls on…
Or, we might imagine we’re Jesus. Here the film crew is thwarted. Because Jesus in this story is a mere embryo–a fertilized egg in his mother’s womb. Jesus: of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made. In the dark womb of unknowing. Embryonic. Jesus: “…the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” [Heb. 1:3] The exact imprint of God’s very being having, as it were, transcending his own transcendence, become embryonic in the darkness and unknowingness of his mother’s life-giving womb. Jesus: the Word made flesh. Jesus: the “image of the invisible God…in him all things in heaven and on earth were created…in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” [Col. 1:15, 16, 19]
Presumably, when the scriptures speak of Jesus as the image of God, when the Creed speaks of Jesus being “of one being with the Father”, it means all of Jesus, Jesus at every stage of growth. A growing cluster of cells. A child growing in his mother’s womb. In the manger. At her side as a toddler. At Joseph’s side in the carpenter’s shop. As a boy in the temple. As a young man. As teacher; as wonder-worker and healer. As convict on a cross. (“Made perfect through suffering,” it says in Hebrews.) In a tomb. In resurrection. In ascension to glory. A seamless progression: it’s one and the same Jesus.
In Jesus God is revealed to us as something in process, someone in process. Not a fixed, static reality, but a living God. Growing, unfolding, expanding—an emerging consciousness, increasingly alive to the world. Like the baby in Mary’s womb. The image of God in Jesus Christ embraces the whole process: from conception to glorification.
To say that God is somehow still growing, still unfolding, still expanding is a challenging idea, perhaps even jarring. We tend to be more comfortable with God as changeless—which, paradoxically, may also be true.
How is God in process, in progress, still expanding, still becoming? God only knows the full scope of this. But I think this is where we come in. I think we human beings may actually be part of God’s process, God’s expansiveness, God’s “becomingness”. After all, “In him we live and move and have our being.” We abide in him, as he abides in us.
To say that the Word became flesh, that in Christ our humanity is somehow taken up into the godhead pretty much puts our humanity at the heart of things.
There’s a verse in the first letter of John that I find deeply intriguing. “…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” [1 John 4:12] God’s love is perfected in us. That is, God’s love is made complete, brought to fulfillment in and through human beings, through us. And, we remember, John also tells us that God is love.
If, then, God is love and God’s love is perfected in us, God’s own being and ours are somehow integral to each other. The perfection of love in us, the completion of love in us, when we “love one another”, becomes an integral component of God’s own being, God’s own expansiveness, God’s own “expandingness”, God’s own “becomingness”. To put it more provocatively, God’s own being is in some way incomplete without your life, your love; my life, my love.
We’ve had the privilege these last four weeks of hearing a series of poignant sermons “Out of Africa”. We heard of tremendous suffering and deprivation and need. As long as there is such suffering, such deprivation in Africa—or anywhere else in the world–our love as human beings has not been perfected. Our love has not yet reached its fullness. And, at least in terms of the created order, God’s love has not yet come into its fullness. If our love for our sisters and brothers in such suffering has not yet reached fulfillment, if God’s love has not come into its fullness, neither has God’s own being—since God is love.
In this season we rightly lament the meagerness of our love, the incompleteness, the imperfection of our love. It is so, well, embryonic. But, it is embryonic. And the future beckons!
A fertilized egg. A small cluster of cells. A child growing in the womb of his mother. An infant in a manger. The toddler, the youth, the man. The crucified, resurrected, ascended, glorified human being. This is the image of God revealed to us in Christ. The God who, in Christ, has grafted us into his own being. As we grow in love, even the heart of the living God is changed. As we grow in love, even the womb of the living God is changed, swelling like a young mother with all the promise of new life. Swelling with all the promise of an ever more perfect love.
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