We live in two realities. Actually, we only live in one reality, but a reality that has a depth and complexity that we only vaguely sense or seldom think about. So we largely just see and experience the surface of this single and deep reality. We perceive and experience the external and superficial phenomena of the physical world, and in our ignorance we believe this to be all that reality is. We are so often caught up in the daily struggle of survival and the endless search for satisfaction and meaning, that we have neither the time nor the inclination to look beyond what appears to fulfil our immediate needs. And yet when we take time to stop moving so frantically through life, and are still for a moment and allow ourselves to be silent, we are able to sense something lurking within this outer reality and begin to intuit a depth within our perceptions and experiences.
The divine is revealed within material reality, not as something other or alien to it, or as something over and above; but is revealed as innate to this reality. It is intimately constitutive of concrete reality, and indeed, as that which makes it uniquely distinctive of what it is. The divine presence slowly unfolds if we gaze steadily and with faith at the ordinary realities of our daily life. This presence is a ‘hidden’ but discernible presence. This is what is known as the incarnation principle. God was revealed fully in the person of Jesus Christ, the carpenter from Nazareth. Christ’s divinity was fully present in His person as a true and real human being. Because God chose to reveal Himself to the world in this way, we now know that God doesn’t appear to us in the extraordinary and spectacular, but like His making Himself present to us in the human flesh of Christ, He continues to make Himself present to us in the material reality of the created world and in the ordinary circumstances of our physical reality here on Earth. This is a wonderful truth that brings us new insight and encouraging consolation as we make our pilgrim way in the world that God created and loves.
The superficiality of modern day living leads us to mistakenly believe that only the physical matters and that the things of the spirit are useless in our striving to make our way in this challenging and complicated world. It is very easy then to lose ourselves and neglect our spiritual sensibilities, and become confused and anxious. We so often react to what is immediate and urgent, that we forget what is essential. The challenge is to peel back these surface layers of reality and discover the depth and beauty that lie within them. Here we discover the world of Spirit, and realise that the surface experiences, while they may appear ordinary and mundane, hide something deeper which is filled with profound meaning.
God is the Lord of the here and now, of the present moment in this particular place; and this is where He meets us. If we seek to encounter the divine, it can only be where we are, and in no other place at this moment. In the very ordinary and in the challenges of our daily living, this is where God finds us and where we touch the sacred and the divine. Our temptation is often to believe that God can only be genuinely found in a perfect place, a place of holiness and peace, that we will only truly encounter God when the time and the conditions are right. This belief is what prevents us from a genuine encounter with the divine at every moment and in every situation of our lives. This is what the incarnation teaches us: that God is found in the ordinary and often messy and disorganised reality of our lives. In fact, our most profound experiences of God are to be found in the everyday rhythms of our lives. This incarnational Spirituality teaches us that God chooses to reveal His presence and love to us in the ordinary people and events of our lives.
We must rid ourselves of the thought that ‘spiritual’ is good and ‘physical’ is bad. A misguided instinct in aspects of our religious culture led us to believe that we must deny the physical in order to enter into the spiritual. That the material, bodily and earthly is of little value, and that we should reject it and strive instead to enter into the purely spiritual and ethereal. But we are as much physical beings as we are spiritual, and we are children of this earthly realm as well as of the spiritual world. Our lives are lived within the realities of this world and its physical materiality: birth, growth, play, love, sexuality, grief, joy, aging, illness, and ultimately bodily death are all intimate realities for us. And it is precisely here where God reveals Himself to us and where we discover His presence and love in our lives; a love that heals and transforms us and offers us the possibility of resurrection and new life. We are inextricably both physical and spiritual, both mind and body, both material and mystical. We cannot escape the physical just as we cannot deny the spiritual. Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, the palaeontologist and mystic said that we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. It is as much true to say that we are physical beings having spiritual experiences too. He also said, “by means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us, and moulds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, when in fact we live steeped in its burning layers”
It is here where God shows us His face and wherein lies the possibility of healing and transformation. The Spirit invites us to gaze at this transparent reality with eyes of faith and to accept the invitation to enter into its depths and find life.