Friday, December 21, 2012


In the parish of my youth it was a practice to fall down on one knee at the creedal phrase "for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man."  This small gesture of collapsing onto the kneeling rail brought a profound sense of mystery, awe and fascination in my age of theological innocence.  All I knew then was that I felt deeply humble and grateful to kneel weekly before the Christmas miracle.  This was before seminary; before the time of intellectual arrogance and before a lifetime of parish ministry where my halo became crooked and bent and my soul was gradually chipped raw by the foibles of ecclesiastical machinations.  It has only been in retirement that my soul has been restored and healed and I can once again behold the glory of the infant Christ and feel deeply the Incarnatus.  Behold, I am young again and this is very, very good.

The Celtic Church knew all about this.  Thomas Cahill writes that the Celts owned an incarnational world view:  "Our Father in heaven, having created all things, even things that have become bent or gone bad, will deliver us, his children, from all evil.  But our Father is not only in faraway heaven, but lives among us.  For he created everything by the Word, which was with him in the beginning, which became flesh in the human Jesus, and flames out in all creatures."

Like the early Christians, the Celts saw no separation between heaven and earth; mystery and phenomena.  Christ was very near indeed; near in the earth, near in the sea, near in the heavens, near in the soul.  The Incarnation was alive and well in the ancient Celtic Church, which is represented in these familiar words:  "Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.  Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."  This is Christmas within the yearning human soul; the baby Jesus embedded in the very flesh of every human being.

As we have learned from Quantum Physics that a particle can be in one place and everywhere else simultaneously, we believe that the Word became one human being, Jesus, and is everywhere else in the universe.  The majestic Anglican notion of the Incarnation is that the Word is present in all of broken humanity, in the cosmos, in the earth and interstellar space.  As Paul wrote, "nothing can separate us from the love of Christ."

On behalf of our Episcopal Journey authors, I pray and hope that you will have an insanely joyful celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God.


  1. Very well said, Bob. Thank you and blessings to you and yours.

  2. Very well said, Bob. Thank you and blessings to you and yours.

  3. Bob, the right message for the moment and for us everyday of the week. I have been reading The Big Book of Near Death Experiences by Atwood, an encyclopedia of sorts It is not only incarnation to us but of us to divine and eternal love and wisdom. We are all one in the Spirit and one Christ's loving presence.

  4. Thank you Bob for your insightful reflection on the Incarnation. Merry Christmas to you and all bloggers on "Episcopal Journey of Hope."

  5. Lovely message! The Celts did/do have it spot on!
    Warmest best wishes to all during these Holy Holidays and great Blessings in the New Year!

  6. Beautiful. I read your post to my family this morning.

  7. If I may be so bold to respond.

    I too, was drawn to Maureen Dowd’s article as it was widely shared on Facebook. I might add a few adjectives... arrogant and intolerant... to your description of the agnostic/atheist responses. I would conjecture that many of these are former believers injured and alienated by existing radical/intolerant unloving church dogma which has driven many to not be ‘near.’. Many are also people that have stroked and developed their intellectual side to the detriment of their spiritual side. Hence the belief that “objective” thought trumps spiritual faith and abstract concepts like “grace” and “unconditional love” do not fit into their “real” world.

    I love the inferences of the teaching that “in the face of mystery, we are all subject to subjectivity!” That horizon you denote where tentative conclusions and ultimate truth join sounds very close to Hegel’s dialectic ‘absolute truth’ to me, but where beliefs and faith-based truths are brought as thesis to the building of the pyramid. If only we could all throw our hands up and see that truth. But then, the awe comes in great part from the ‘mystery.’

    Maureen refers to an “unconditionally loving presence.” On first reading I think of that presence as being God... then I realize she’s presenting both the idea of an individual being with another in a spirit of unconditional love as well as that of our unconditionally loving God being with us.

    Your fourth paragraph begins with “Loving presence.....” And I read “Being a loving presence.......” I suspicion that some of those agnostic/atheist individuals can be a loving presence for someone in their lives, and that what they are really objecting to in Maureen’s article is their preconceived notion of a rigid dogma behind much organized religion. Their mean spirited responses may be driven by whatever bad experience drove them to look away. If they were more closely in touch with their own spirit, they might recognize this in themselves.

    You refer to “authentic presence.” Authentic presence is a little difficult for me. I think of Thomas Wojick’s article about the courage to be vulnerable as defining authentic presence, and I think you are referring to unconditional love as the/a criteria for having an authentic presence. A quick google search here brought me to Jean Watson’s Caring Theory, and I found myself totally engaged. She refers to authentic presence in the context of nursing and caring for patients.

    I agree with your assessment that formal descriptions of clergy roles can hinder, but would add that they should be treated as guidelines and be driven by mission statements that allow for flexibility. It seems true that a focus on being a loving presence for each individual we encounter will bring us all closer to God.

    I thank you for the intellectual and spiritual stimulation and for inviting me to this blog site.

  8. As soon as I posted this and slid back up the page I realized I posted a response to the wrong message. Sorry for that. I do not see how to edit or delete the post so guess I'm stuck with it here.
    I am not familiar with the Celts message you quote and find it inspiring. There is truly no separation between earth and heaven when Christ can be in one place and everywhere simultaneously.
    I'm having "an insanely joyful celebration of the incarnation of the word of God."
    Thank you.