+The Psalms Open Further the Mystery of the Incarnation Chapter Sep. 24th, ‘17
Some years ago while listening to one of Ronald Rolheiser’s books being read in the refectory, I remember him saying that we have hardly begun appreciating the full meaning of the Incarnation. The danger in many things we hear about God’s taking on our human flesh is to be left with the impression Rrolheiser describes in his book The Holy Longing:
“that the incarnation was a thirty-year experiment, a one-shot incursion by God into human history. In this version, God came to earth physically and then, after thirty-three years, went back home. It uses the past tense for the incarnation and that is a dangerous under-understanding. The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine.”
It is all too easy for any of us to feel or think of Christ’s presence as remote, to think of God’s taking on our human condition as having little or nothing to do with my life today. For Augustine according to Rowan Williams, when we become members of Christ’s Body through the gift of the Holy Spirit: “the incarnational embrace of the prose of human existence means that the least spectacular act of authentic faith and obedience is validated by God, even though our preoccupation with dramatic success may hide it from our eyes.”
The psalms give a believing voice to the common place in the ordinary or even the dull moments of our lives. The full breath of our human experience is taken up into the life of the Spirit as we allow the Spirit who has inspired the psalms, to penetrate our human condition. According to Augustine, Williams tell us, “what most locates us in our earthly experience in all its reality is what most opens up the fuller sense” [of our humanity].…The Psalms offer a particular way of structuring the time of the believer’s life, so that the present is always oriented to Christ’s future.”
Our Christian lives, though fractured by the awareness of sin, are consciously identified with Christ’s own fractured and suffering life, culminating on the cross. Such an identification, according to Augustine:
Is enacted not only through sacramental practice but also through the recitation of the classic texts of frustration and hope, the Psalms, in which the divine adoption of the human voice is so keenly expressed. As these texts are recited, the profundum [the depth] of the human heart, never known to us in fullness, is opened up by God. What we do not and cannot know about our past, present, and future is given over to God, who will draw out of us cries and aspirations that more and more clearly give voice to what is hidden in us, knowing that all this elusive human agenda unrecognized within us is embraced in the incarnation and may be employed by Christ in his work.”
Because of what God has done in taking on our flesh, becoming incarnate through the Virgin Mary, God’s love is now able to fill our hearts through our prayer of the psalms. These inspired songs allow us to discover the full richness of our creation, the fact that we have been made in the image and likeness of God. Because of sin, we have lost sight of our dignity and are always in danger of belittling the dignity of others. Owning and giving expression to the richness and depth of our human experience through the psalms, what took place in Christ, takes place in us and we truly become living members of the Body of Christ.
Ronald Rolheiser draws out the full implications of this in his treatise I mentioned above, The Holy Longing where he says:
“Scripture, and Paul in particular, never tells us that the body of believers replaces Christ’s body, nor that it represents Christ’s body, nor even that it is Christ’s mystical body. It says simply: ‘We are Christ’s body.’ …The body of believers, like the Eucharist, is the Body of Christ in an organic way. It is not a corporation, but a body; not just a mystical reality, but a physical one; and not something that represents Christ, but something that is him.
This has immense implications. It means that the incarnation did not end after thirty-three years, when Jesus ascended. God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us—it became flesh and continues to dwell among us. In the body of believers and in the Eucharist, God still has physical skin and can still be physically seen, touched, smelled, heard, and tasted.”
The psalms have a wonderful way of grounding us in this reality. They allow us to express all the varied and rich human experience any one of us goes through and to know that it is all accompanied and even identified with the living Christ. Most of us who have spent years in the monastic life know how difficult it is at times, to enter into the riches that are there. But letting the Psalms wash daily over us and through us, we know that we are living members of Christ’s Body, that we are entering into a prayer that makes us one with the whole human family, lifting up its diverse and often very painful human experience to the living God.
I sometime ask myself if this might not well be the real meaning of our cloistered calling! Hidden among the knobs of Kentucky, we are not only in close touch with the rest of the human race but called to lift up to our loving God, not only all the most painful, varied and joyful experience of God’s people but of all creation.