Divine and Human: Contradiction or Reality | January 1, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake
Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes And the heart consumes itself, if it would live, Where children age before their time, And life wears down the edges of the mind, Where the old man sits with mind grown cold, While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death, Where fear companions each day’s life, And Perfect Love seems long delayed. CHRISTMAS IS WAITING TO BE BORN: In you, in me, in all [hu]mankind.
– Howard Thurman
I reiterate from last week’s message that there is proximity between Christmas and the New Year, not only in terms of the calendar but also in meaning. “Both speak profoundly to the deep needs and possibilities of the human spirit if we would only listen. Our experience of the New Year can be enhanced by our understanding of the Christmas event.”
The Christmas event was an awesome revelation of or better, imagining of, the birth of one whose adult life was clearly off the charts in terms of its newness, compassion, sovereignty, God consciousness, sacred living, divine/cosmic accountability and companionship, and impact on those he encountered.
He was beyond any person that had lived among his people. Surely, his birth must have been special. What else could account for this Emmanuel, this God with us? While Christmas was born in the nativity narratives how many years ago, it remains to be born today. The new year, regardless of how long or short it may be for us, provides the current theatre for this re-birthing.
A major question that stalks many is the divinity of Jesus. Was he divine or not? If so, what was the nature of that divinity? Throughout church history and in secular discussions, this question has sought answers. And there have been answers, unquestioning, speculative, scholarly, objective, and subjective.
Docetism was an early challenge to the church that nearly split it. Docetism held the belief that Jesus was God, not a man. He only appeared to be human. Apollinaris asserted the divinity of Jesus but doubted that he had a human soul and will. Today, Jesus and God are often used interchangeably, as though there is no difference between the two. Once I was berated by a visitor because I did not end my prayer for the sick by saying “in Jesus’ name.” She believed in the divinity of Jesus that still could perform miracles.
Let us first establish that Jesus was human. He had a body. He could touch. He was born of a young woman and a man. He enjoyed weddings and eating with the outcasts of society. He felt pain, wrestled with his calling, ate, slept, and felt disappointment, sorrow, and anguish. He touched people and healed them. He wept over Jerusalem and used his voice to call people to their highest selves.
While the theoretical question of Jesus’ humanity or divinity is important for many, it is not the question that Jesus answered in the presence of the communities of which he was a part. The question he answered during his earthly time was: “Where was God? It is for me the question that needs answering today: “Where is God today?”
Jesus answered that question in his day by clearly revealing and demonstrating that God was in him. The humanity of Jesus was not a question for his disciples. They ate with him, slept with him, and journeyed with them. However, when his disciples looked at Jesus and experienced the wonder of his company, they realized that there was something beyond, behind, under, above, in him, that was the source of his strength, wisdom, awakening and transforming gifts, his delivering them from their incapacities, their little, futile selves. They observed that after he prayed, there was a radiance not only in the face but in the ministry, the work that he incarnated. That is why they asked him to teach them how to pray. They saw beyond the human Jesus into the divine. God was present through and in the person of Jesus. That was where God was for them. Would you not follow Jesus if you felt the presence of God when in his presence?
Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick brilliantly states:
"...there grew in them [the disciples] a strange sense of the Master’s [teacher’s, deliverer’s] rightful authority over their lives. He taught them, said Matthew, as one having sovereignty. Make no mistake about this. His authority did not mean regimentation…. His authority, as with all spiritual excellence, issued not in regimentation but in stimulation. Under this sway qualities and powers began coming out in them unguessed before, qualities and powers original, individual, creative, each man becoming more truly himself, the more he became Christ’s.”
Jesus could have sovereignty over them because he had sovereignty over himself. He was not colonized in mind and spirit as they were, but instead free. The God who liberates from imperial and self-colonization was in him and among them through him. Again, that’s where God was.
Jesus was not all-powerful, omniscient, or omnipresent. He was a product of his culture. He probably believed that the earth was flat. However, wherever he was present, God was present. Isn’t that divinity?
His birth heralded this new understanding of the conducting of God’s intention and will among the people who would be part of Jesus’s journey.
Is there anything that hints at this understanding in modern times?
Dr. Robert McAfee Brown explained Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s understanding of divine pathos, the pain of God when seeing the suffering of the world:
God needs us: the fulfillment of the divine intention for the
world cannot be accomplished apart from the work of God’s
children…. God has placed us here in the midst of an unfin-
ished creation, and has given us the task of helping to bring
it to fulfillment. That is why we were created. That is the pur-
pose of our lives. That is the content of our prayer. That is
why our deeds and our prayers can never be separated. That
is why intention and deed are both necessary. That is why
there must be both kavanah, the right intention, and mitz-
vah, the actual deed…. For just as the contemplation
about God leads to the doing of deeds so the doing of
deeds is one of the “starting points of contemplation about
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who is one of the leaders of the Jewish Renewal Movement and a member of the National Council of Elders, was asked: What do you think of the world today?
I think we’re at the cusp of disaster or transformation, and I don’t know which we’re going to choose. Over and over again, it feels to me like the only model I really know is the Israelite runaway slaves at the edge of the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind them. They don’t know it’s going to split. In fact, they don’t believe it’s going to. Why would it split? No sea ever split. They’re poised between surrendering to Pharaoh’s army, going back and be slaves again and getting garlic and onions (which they’re really hungry for) and going into the unknown. And the unknown’s crazy. Why would you go into the unknown?
According to tradition, there’s one guy who decides to take a chance, and he’s up to his nose in the water and on the edge of drowning when the water splits. And the tradition says there were still people who didn’t want to go. I think the whole human race is right there.
The New Year presents the time and opportunities to embrace the unknown, to split the Red Sea again. It has been done before. It can happen again.
This is not the emphasis of contemporary New Year’s celebration with their parades, confetti, throwing old calendars out the window, watching the ball fall, and party after party.
In a stunning essay by Michael Meade forwarded to me by Randy Thomas, I have been informed that New Year’s celebrations were not always so disappointingly fruitless. The author is sensitive to the events of the ending year, 2022. It has been one to remember politically, atmospherically, and morally. It was a year that some are glad to see end, hoping that the new one will be better. Yet we do not ritualize past mishaps and missed opportunities so that we can move forward with renewed awareness of potential for ourselves and the domains we inhabit.
Different from our habit of making resolutions and then breaking them with no consequences, ancient celebrations acknowledged loss and the diminishing of the world because the divine was obfuscated rather than revealed. The divine was absent rather than present.
In the ancient understanding the world inevitably becomes worn down in the course of a year…. The purpose of New Year’s rites and celebrations was not a simple turning of a calendar page, but a symbolic return to the beginning of time in order to restore life to its original potentials.
The old mythological idea was that if the march of time could be stopped, a timeless moment could occur in which the touch of the eternal could enter the world and allow everything to start over again. This old sense of tapping into the original source of life becomes lost in a modern world ruled by chronological time which is time expiring minute after minute, time counting down and running out on people and on the Earth.
Rites of cleansing and purification before the New Year were like preparations for a new birth. The ancient idea was that acknowledging the mistakes and misdeeds, the wounds and losses that troubled the old year could clear the way for a renewal of life. Implied was a sense of forgiveness that could release people from the need to simply repeat the mistakes of the past. By symbolically participating in the dissolution of time and its renewal, people were temporarily delivered from their faults and failings and had their original life potentials restored.
I believe that such rites can reconnect the participants with the sacredness of the human journey. This would be a treasure as we move into our new year, 2023.
Rabbi Waskow gives a picturesque depiction of what was facing our Hebrew ancestors
on their way to freedom. The Red Sea was in front of them, with mountains on both
sides. Pharoah’s army was in hot pursuit behind them. What were they to do? A large number of them remembered the old year and began thinking it wasn’t so bad being slaves. At least they had food and weren’t facing the death that was sure to come now. What were they to do? Keep on marching toward freedom. According to Waskow, if divine intervention happened in that faraway time, it could happen again, now.
I visited one of my favorite holy sites a week ago, Sagrada Sacred Arts. While there, I purchased an Obsidian (Gold Sheen) bracelet. I had not intended to purchase it. It, strangely, would not allow me to leave it in the store. I now know that I needed it to remind me to prepare for the new year. It claims to be protective and repels negativity. It inspires truth-telling, taking one deep into the core of a problem, shows what is needed for healing, and eliminates any sense of futility/ego conflict.
I eagerly anticipate this new year of exploration and divine presence. Where is God? If God dwelled in a human being before, Jesus of Nazareth, who led others to heights unknown and great deeds unthinkable. Surely, God can be present again in human beings to accomplish Eternal intentions today.
Were not our births heralded by earth and sky, stars and sun? Were we not brought precious gifts from wise people far and near, dead and alive, literature and music, science, and the kindness of kin and strangers? Have not poets sung of us and the magnanimity of being human? Have not preachers and teachers invested knowledge and mystery in us? Have not those in various walks of life walked with us assuring us that we were/are somebody? They were messengers of God. God has been with us and still invites us to more assertedly claim that presence so that where we are, God is there also.
Mark Nepo assures us that:
When touched by our calling, what matters is if we can listen to our own unmitigated possibility with our whole being. For this will enable us to begin, the way one day of rain and one day of sun will start the flower in its destiny to bloom. In deep and unexpected ways, saying yes is a form of listening that brings who we are and what we experience into true meeting: Saying yes is the beginning of all flowering.
We Are Building Up A New World.
Sung to the tune of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”
We are building up a new world,
We are building up a new world,
We are building up a new world,
Builders must be strong.
Courage sisters don’t get weary,
Courage brothers don’t get weary,
Courage people don’t get weary,
Though the way be long.
Rise, shine, give God glory,
Rise, shine, give God glory,
Rise, shine, give God glory,
Children of the Light.
(Words courtesy of Vincent Harding)
The Logos of God has become human so that you might learn from a human being how a human being may become divine. – Clement of Alexandria