Follow me down this rabbit-hole:
Think of your life as a series of successive, momentary experiences. In each present moment we are faced with innumerable influences that contribute to what we do with the moment we are currently experiencing. The past is one of these influences. In other words, decisions you’ve made in the past have an obvious effect on your present experience. For example, if in a series of recently past momentary experiences I decided to walk into my kitchen, then in my present moment of experience I cannot choose to climb a tree. The options available to me in the present moment are, to an extent, determined by decisions I’ve made in the recent past.
Another influence on our present moment of experience is our environment. Let us return to the example I used above. The fact that I find myself in my kitchen in the present moment (as a result of previous decisions) means that I am encountering a number things that are unique to my kitchen (i.e. the fridge, the dirty dishes that are piling up on the counter, my roommate who happens to be in the kitchen as well, etc.). As I take in my immediate surroundings, certain options become available to me in the present moment: I can choose to open the fridge to find a snack, I can choose to clean the dishes or I can choose to start up a conversation with my roommate, for example.
The language of Incarnation can be utilized to help us understand how the influences of the past and our environment are related to our present moment of experience. Essentially, Incarnation is the idea of one thing being present in another thing. Is this not what’s going on in each present moment of experience? Indeed, as we remember our past and take in our environment, these influences become a part of, or are incarnated in, our present moment of experience.
Let us imagine that these two influences (which are really more than two influences for the past is comprised of multiple decisions that are each, in their own way, influencing the present just as our environment contains a seemingly infinite amount of stimuli that each have an effect on the present moment) are the only influences that contribute to our present moment of experience. It would seem that these influences would have a limiting effect on my present moment of experience. To return, once again, to our example: my past decisions that have led me to my kitchen do not allow me, in my present moment of experience, to choose tree climbing because there are no trees in my kitchen. Similarly, my options for the present moment are limited to some sort of interaction with the various “things” that are in my kitchen (my fridge, the dishes, my roommate, etc.). It would almost seem that these two influences determine what I do with my present moment of experience. Could not the decision that I choose to make in the present moment be predicted with certainty by someone who had an absolute knowledge of the influences of my past and my immediate environment?
Our intuition would have us answer this question in the negative. Despite the overwhelming influence that our past and our environment has on what we do in the present moment, we still sense a certain level of autonomy and freedom to create something new in the present moment.
Why is this?
The answer lies in the fact that there is something else that is influencing us in each present moment of experience, namely, the open future.
In each present moment of experience the future is presented to us as a number of potential options for what we can do with our present moment. These potential options serve as influences in their own right on us as we decide how to actualize our present moment of experience.
I’ve come to understand God as the one who presents us with these options for the future in each new moment. More needs to be said here, however. Not only does God present us with options for each successive moment of experience, but God lures us towards the options that would lead to the most zest and adventure in that particular moment of experience. Thus, we could say that God is the one who keeps the present from merely collapsing into a reconfiguration of past decisions. In other words, God is that which allows for novelty or creative transformation in each present moment. When I find myself in the kitchen in my apartment I am presented with a number of options for the future, some of which are more creative and adventurous than others. God’s aim would be to have me choose one of these more adventurous or creative options.
Once again, the language of Incarnation becomes useful at this point. We could say that God becomes incarnate in each moment of our experience to the extent that we choose the more creative or zesty options that are presented to us in each moment.
So let’s bring this home.
In this season of Advent we remember the coming of Jesus, the one who responded fully to the lure of God in each moment. The language of Incarnation is absolutely appropriate when it comes to describing what took place with the person of Jesus for as he was responsive to the call of God in each moment God was made manifest in his loving embrace of those he encountered. When we look at Jesus we see God.
As we’ve discovered, however, Incarnation is much bigger than what happened 2,000 years ago with Jesus. In fact, Incarnation is happening in many different ways in each of our moments of experience. There are many different “things” occupying each one of our successive moments of experience (the past, our environment, the lure of the future which includes the aim of God). May this season of Advent remind us that God is attempting to be made manifest in each new moment of our own experience. As Christ was born some 2,ooo years ago, so may he be be born again this day in us.
“We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity…. But if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.” – Meister Eckhart