To Escape or Inhabit, that is the question

This time of year we are drawn to wonder at the incarnation; the word become flesh in Jesus. Many of us are perplexed by the incarnation, mostly because if, like me you have come from traditions that emphasise the cross heavily, Jesus’ life is somewhat of an awkward unintelligible preamble.

In the past my best guess (although I may never have stated it so bluntly) is that the Father sent the Son to become Jesus in a dusty, dirty, evil earth to show us the way we can believe in God again and get back to heaven (where I presumed we belong). More recently I have seen that Jesus’ incarnation was not an unfortunate practically of saving our disembodied souls but in fact a reclamation of the same dust and earth that God breathed into to make friends to walk with in the garden.

God becomes flesh gives meaning to our lives in the flesh 1

In the beginning, God breathes into dust, makes humanity and along with all of the created matter calls it ‘very good’. As I’ve mentioned before, my understanding of the narrative of scripture is one where God intends to reclaim and recover everything lost in the fall and inhabit a renewed earth and finally dwell with His people. This is an eschatology rather than ESCAPE-ology where we dodge fireballs on the way to an ethereal cloud based existence in heaven forever. This way of reading scripture makes serious claims on how we live this life and contribute to the renewing of creation (both humanity and it’s surroundings) as a pre-empting of the work God wants to do through His people not just for them.

The Incarnation teaches us there is meaning in inhabiting our in-bodied world

The incarnation, God made flesh is very confusing if we think of a un-embodied future. Jesus is still a human, He still has the resurrected body and he still resembles his mother mary! If we consider the ongoing importance of Christ’s incarnation it fills created matter with meaning, intention, and value and we see it importantly as the first and significant step of redeeming created things.

If this is our understanding of the narrative of God’s world, of which the gospel is a part then how does that affect how we live, minister and worship?

Worship is Formational

As someone who pretty regularly leads people into sung worship, and helps guide an initiative of regular prayer for our church community, I’ve thought alot about how these practises, the words embedded in them, and even the forms themselves form us. Because Make no mistake, these practise do form us. Jamie K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom; 2 How Worship Works makes a compelling point that worship informs our social imaginary, a term coined by Charles Taylor.

Our social imaginaries are the place we live from, the places we respond and react from. We like to think that changing our thinking, more specifically our logical thought, our statements of belief etc. change how we live. But in fact, we live from a much broader place of our pre-concious or the ‘way we see the world’, I spoke about this in passing early on in writing this blog by talking of practise.

Learning to drive a car is a good analogy for this; when someone is learning to drive every moment is conciously processed and this ‘over-thinking’ becomes a terrifying reality for everyone else who joins the learner in the car! When someone has learnt to drive a car, the process becomes a pre-concious intuition, the feel of the pedal, the signalling. Most importantly, a driver begins to process dangers such as an oncoming car pre-conciously, they brake and swerve without having to look down at the pedals and decide which one will accomplish the task. Our moral lives, which is really our entire life lived with Christ, operates in this way. What is significant is that within the driver’s pre-concious is a way of seeing the world that responds intuitively, because the pre-concious is formed by a vision of the world where an oncoming car is a very likely threat of death.

Does our worship teach us to inhabit our lives or escape them?

Our Worship practises are what inform the way we understand the world at this pre-concious level, so the words and forms we use become of upmost importance. Do the words we use, and the forms we encourage reflect what the incarnation is telling us? Jesus came close, He engaged and inhabited the place He was called to reconcile and renew. Do our practises, prayer language and forms encourage us to inhabit the world God has given us to cultivate into new creation or to escape it? We have to pay attention to this if we are going to be formed into the likeness of the Christ who came to engage and inhabit the World he was present with at the time of creation (John 1:1).

Sometimes it seems like the eye-roll inducing protest of theological-types to call into awareness of the power of the words we use, but we are made in image of the God who speaks in order to create realities. Do the words we use, and the stewardship of our reality-creating speaking abilities help forward or inhibit our lives in God’s Kingdom, as our families prayer says; “On Earth as it in heaven.”

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  1. I’m using flesh here, not as the greek ‘sarx’ (which is the flesh we ‘put off’, normally understood as ‘sinful nature’) but the greek ‘soma’ or body, which is the only location we can live our God-shaped lives. 
  2. Possibly my favourite book of the last year 

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