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Embodiment, Part 3

 God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall, go to the limits of your longing, Embody me.

Flare up like flame and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final. Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life. You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

Rainer Maria Rilke[1]

When I began this reflection on embodiment two weeks ago, I noted that the Hebrew word rauch is translated as Spirit in the creation story of Genesis. The same word also means air, breath, and wind. This allegorical story provides a vivid image of God’s spirit (rauch) as the animating force that brings the materials of earth to life. The broad meaning of rauch gives us a clearer understanding of the intimate presence of God’s spirit. It was not just something that entered the earth in the beginning and then retreated to parts unknown. God’s spirit continues to sweep over the face of the earth as air and wind. God’s spirit enters and exits our bodies with every breath we take and envelopes our being with every breeze. That same spirit creates and sustains the life we know. When we take our last breath, that spirit leaves the body, carrying our soul with it. The form we once knew dies, but everything making up that form assumes a new, resurrected form.

The Hebrew people, in the time of Moses, believed God’s name should not be spoken. The name of God, as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, is YHWH, or what we pronounce as Yahweh. It means I am. Some believe we breath the name of God with every inhale and exhale. We breath God’s spirit (as air) into our physical body with each inhale – Yah – and we return God’s spirit into the world around us with each exhale – weh. Consciously breathing the name of God is a practice known as the Yahweh Prayer. It is the first and last Word we utter in the earthly chapter of our lives. It is quite literally the spirit of God, through our breath, that keeps our earthly form alive.

Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for October 3, 2019, wrote, “We are only afraid of death as long as we do not know who we are, but once we know ourselves objectively to be a child of God, we are already home and our inheritance is given to us ahead of time.”[2] As the significance of the presence of God as our very breath begins to sink in, it becomes apparent that we are quite literally God’s children. The moment God’s rauch is removed from us, our physical existence ceases.

The life force flows from the spirit of God as our soul and animates our earthly embodiment. God enters us, enlivens our physical form, and sees and works through us. Most of the time, most of us are unaware not only of the intimate nearness of God’s presence, but also of the work God does in and through us. We feel closest to God when we become conscious co-creators with God in the world around us. This is how we develop a relationship – by acknowledging God’s presence and finding ways to listen for God’s guidance through practices like Centering Prayer, presence to the moment, and mindfulness meditation. In the process of tuning in to the divine presence with and in us, our fear of physical death dissipates because we learn that the connection with the eternal transcends our physical existence. As Rilke encourages: “Don’t let yourself lose me.” Our body is only the vehicle through which God’s work is done through and with us on earth. Although we do not know how the relationship will look after our physical death, we are assured that the bond of our soul to God’s spirit will continue because we have learned that we are inseparably united.

This is the beauty of embodiment, that our soul wraps itself in the substance of the earth for a time in order to experience the extraordinary beauty, depth, change, and pain of physical existence. And with us for every step of the journey is the spirit of God sweeping over the face of the earth as it continues to create, animate, experience, and lovingly claim us as the children of God. Through Rilke, God says, “Give me your hand.”

This is the 4th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

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[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. Riverhead Books. 1996.

[2] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations. Meditations.cac.org, October 3, 2019

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Not Peace, but a Sword

 Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew 10:34

This passage of scripture is easy to ignore as improbable to have been said by Jesus. Perhaps it was mistranslated. Perhaps a disgruntled biblical scribe with an unhappy home life snuck it into the Bible in one of its later rewritings. As Jesus describes his “sword” in the verses that follow, he says he will set “a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:35-36). With the blessings a loving, supportive family brings, one would expect Jesus to teach peace within families, not division.

Unfortunately, family life was not typically healthy or beneficial in Jesus’ day, nor is it in many cases today. Two thousand years ago, families were more like tribes or clans, not unlike the gangs of today or the mafia of the last century. Families were isolated community units with one common purpose – the survival of the clan. Their primary loyalty was to the family. I suspect it was because of the exclusivity of families that Jesus drew people out of them and into a larger, more inclusive community. He called his disciples away from their families and livelihoods in order to unite them around a larger common purpose – the Kingdom of God. This calling to an all-inclusive community must have left the disciples feeling vulnerable and insecure, apart from the group they had identified with since birth. Their safety and security could now only be found in God and in each other. We, particularly in the West, have an aversion to the type of communal life Jesus lived, where resources are shared according to need and not necessarily “earned” according to ability.

Today, we criticize gangs for their often-negative impacts on neighborhoods, including violence against others, drug dealing, sex trafficking, and other atrocities some gangs commit. We forget that people join gangs to satisfy a need to be part of something larger than themselves. They seek security and acceptance they cannot find at home, at work, or at school. The realities of certain socio-economic conditions drive people into gangs, and if we wish to positively impact gang culture we must begin by attacking the underlying conditions that create the need for that type of family. Understanding this may help us understand why Jesus called his disciples away from their families.

It is important, and sometimes counter-intuitive, to realize how our families can stunt our growth. From an early age, many of us attempt to imitate our parents and may set a goal to follow in their footsteps. Carrying on the family business or learning the trade of the parent is not necessarily a bad thing. The prejudices of the parents, however, often become the prejudices of the children, and the sins of one generation pass to the next unchallenged unless and until someone steps out and breaks the cycle. I believe Jesus sought to break that cycle, encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones and into a new life. “Your old life may feel secure,” he seems to say, “but I can show you a life that will open whole new realms of possibility.”  He sought to cut us off from the limitations of our past, including its inherited sins, and lead us in a new way. The “sword” of Jesus is not a physical weapon, but a spiritual tool to free us from the old and set us on a new path.

Jesus concludes this difficult passage by saying, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). I believe the life we will lose, according to Jesus, is the ungrounded and unchallenged life so often followed without question in families, then and now. Because it is a life not grounded in Truth, because it does not put us on a path to the kingdom of God, it cannot last. Jesus calls us to a different family, one that may or may not include others of our household. Prior to our birth, after our death, and especially during our life on earth, we are children of God. Only by our willing consent to let go of the old, traditional ways will we rediscover our natural life in Christ.

This is the 27th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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