Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reconciling Tradition follow-up: The concepts of incarnation, deification, and panentheism (part two)

In another follow-up to my recent series critiquing and  exploring some of the concepts often considered traditional and essential to modern Western Christianity, especially the more fundamentalist or legalistic varieties, I began to further explore and clarify my framing of the nature of the incarnation and the process of deification, a perspective which is based on my take on panentheism. I am using a summarized response of a friend and commenter, representing the mainstream take on what I have previously written, to compare and contrast my own position.

[T]hinking about what you said about the immanence and the transcendence of God-- I think it makes sense to think of the Trinity in light of that: that the Father is in some sense the transcendence of God, while the Son and Spirit function in two different ways, as the immanence of God.

I would say that the Spirit is the connection between the Father and the Son, their relationship to one another. This relationship isn't just incidental, a footnote or acknowledgment of a condition, but a genuine, substantive, vibrant aspect of divinity.

I do think that Jesus did more than connect fully with the Divine; I think Jesus was, in some way, an embodiment of the immanence of God into a human form, with a nature that was both human and divine. I know you would say that our own human nature connects to and arises out of the Divine, and thus in some sense we are divine too-- but I think that the Christian tradition intentionally makes a distinction between us as smaller, individual consciences and the Foundational Consciousness-- whereas Jesus Christ IS the complete presence of the Foundational Consciousness in a human form, made one with a human consciousness in a way that is unique and that no other human can achieve. In other words, that we are distinct from the Divine Consciousness in a way that Jesus is not.

I would agree with quite a bit of this, but not in a way that I think she or others who would agree with her intended. If we take what we might call our typical self, which some refer to as the lesser self, the ego, or the flesh, then yes, there is a difference between us and God, like cells versus the whole organism. The whole (God) is greater than the sum of its parts (which includes us). Our true self, our deeper being, or the spirit, is continuous with God. Neither aspect is totally distinct (flesh and spirit) as many schools of dualism insist, it is more akin to a continuum expressed by levels of consciousness (assuming here that consciousness is the essence of the ground of being). I also have no problem with Jesus as the complete presence of this deepest foundational consciousness. It is central to everything else I wrote about Jesus in my recent series on Christianity.

I also agree that Jesus related to this consciousness in a unique way. But then, I think that is true for all of us. I suppose perhaps the real issue is that I don't assume this means we are somehow inferior in our own unique relationships with this consciousness. I sense this is sometimes part of the idea of Jesus as special, that Jesus needs to be clearly better than us in every way, along with the idea of God as distant and remote, an alien presence, which makes Jesus the alien ambassador. That doesn't mean Jesus wasn't special, of course, but again it comes down to a difference over what that means. If by "we" one means our incomplete selves, then yes, we are distinct from the Divine Consciousness in a way that Jesus was not. I would also agree that a deeper connection to the Divine Consciousness is not something we can achieve by our own efforts, whatever form it takes and however similar or dissimilar it is to the connection Jesus has.

Jesus took on a unique role. Did it have to be Joshua bin Joseph? I think it depends on how we look at it from the perspective of the infinite. We can learn something valuable by answering "yes" and by answering "no". Some human had to take on the role of representing the Father in a unique way, to come to embody and represent the Divine Consciousness as the Logos, as the Christ. To be understood as the Word made flesh. To be able to stand in for the Father, as it were, so that people could say "Here is the face of God." To incarnate the Father's love in an accessible way, including the passion and resurrection. Only one human gets this particular assignment, if you will, for that moment in history.

I think there a couple more issues lurking behind all of this. Does the unique role of Jesus as the Christ mean we can never reach the same fullness with the Divine Consciousness? And if we can, does that diminish Jesus? I just don't see this as making sense. I don't see it as somehow taking away from who Jesus was. By accepting his role, Jesus becomes the Christ. The two are no longer separate. To see Jesus is to see the Father. But if I follow Jesus, are people not to see the Father in me? And if the Spirit represents the relationship between the Son and the Father, what does it say that we receive the Spirit as well?

In a sense, Jesus always was the Christ, but he manifested it at a particular place and time. But does that mean I am not to be a part of the Christ? Jesus shows us the way, and we come to the Father by his example, but is it really so strange and unsettling to suggest you or I or anyone else have our own roles to play, to manifest our own incarnational relationship? It doesn't mean we have to be a carbon copy of Jesus. Is it really so bizarre or impossible to distinguish between "us" as we are and "us" as having the same foundation as Jesus in our deeper nature? And just because I am not called to be Jesus or live his exact life, to replicate the event of his life, does that mean then that Christ withdraws and no longer desires an active role in the world. Was incarnation only intended as a singular event for one person?

I think part of it is the trouble of trying to discuss a corporate personhood, because we keep slipping back into the thought of "me". A bunch of me's running around, each trying to be a separate Christ. Jack the Christ. Lisa the Christ. Tony the Christ. Like a pantheon of gods. To say our true nature is Christ is a difficult thing to fathom. It something more felt than discussed. In Christ the conventional sense of "me" dissolves. That is not to say it is obliterated however, any more than salt is destroyed in water. Jesus was so dissolved, and he took on his own special purpose. But I feel we all have our own special purpose, our own potential, if we submit to it. If we follow Jesus' example and allow ourselves to be fully dissolved in the Logos. Our own role in showing the Father's love.

I think the Trinity can be described as three distinct centers of the Foundational Consciousness, Each functioning in such a way that It can inter-relate with the other Two. We humans can connect to that Foundation, but we are not that Foundation, whereas Jesus in some way IS one of those three centers of Foundational Consciousness.

Yes, I would agree as per above. Jesus consents to take on this role.

This is different from "a piece of God in a human suit" because Jesus is not just a "piece" of that Consciousness but one of the three Centers of It-- not just embodied in flesh, but mingled with a fully human consciousness so as to become one human-divine individual. Our humanity tapping into the Divine, does not give us humans that Incarnational aspect.

But we aren't really tapping in, it's more like realization. It's already there. It's like a coma patient waking up.

[Oh, and I still think that one can still read this very profitably. It's one of the first things I posted on this blog, and it still resonates with me today. Good stuff.]

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