Sunday, June 19, 2011

The God that Walked the Earth

From Wikipedia
One of the inevitable effects of a liberal arts education is that one ends up leaving behind quite a few half-read books. Summer time, for me, is clean up time when I can finish up some of these wayside casualties. At the moment, I'm finishing up Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's a book about the commonalities of our myths, particularly in the journey of the hero.

Today, as I was reading, something stood out to me. It's no secret to any of my friends or readers of this blog that I'm rather obsessed with the incarnation, the resurrection, and what these things say about our bodies and this material world we walk in. In Chapter 4 of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell relates how the heroes return from the divine realm separates him from those around him. He tells, for example, the story of the Irish hero Oisin, who after a time in the Land of Youth returns home. However, he can only do this riding on a magical horse than insulates him from the earth. If he touches the ground the horse will immediately return to the Land of Youth and Oisin will be left behind a blind old man.

Campbell goes on to say, "The idea of the insulating horse, to keep the hero out of immediate touch with the earth and yet permit him to promenade among the peoples of the world, is a vivid example of the basic precaution taken generally by the carriers of supernormal power... over the whole earth the divine personage may not touch the ground with his foot" (Campbell 193).

How powerfully this reinforces the distance of the divine, the unchanging spiritual realm that cannot be corrupted by the lowly degenerate flux of this dirty, earthy mess of a world. This spiritual state is what the Platonists called Being - the ultimate whole self-encompassing and never changing entity.

Yet the Christian story tells us something suprising. Being became. The God of the Universe did not despise the material world, but became one with it. This is not merely the sending of an Avatar, or the wearing of some special skin to insulate His divine self from the carnal world. Instead, the Word which was with God from the beginning, and through Whom all the universe was made, "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). He was born of a woman in a dirty stable. He walked the dusty roads of backwater Nazareth, he worked as a carpenter, ate fish and bread, drank wine and suffered the worst death imaginable. And in the end, He ascended into Heaven, still embodied, to dwell forever as fully man and fully God (for more on the Ascension and what it says about the earth, see the blog of Peter David Gross).

In so doing, God said something powerful about our bodies and about this material creation. It is good, so good that He saw fit to join Himself to it, to redeem it from its fallen state. The vast expanse between heaven and earth, Being and Becomming, collapsed to the space of a baptismal font.