When we use the word “Incarnation”, we most often refer to the incarnation of God as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ, and rightly so. In that humble, selfless, and totally loving act, God entered our humanity and became one of us.
As I listen to the creation story, though, I am beginning see it as a story of incarnation, too. God’s love and the creative energy it generated were too strong to be contained, so God created the universe and all it holds as an expression of God’s very self. The highest form of this incarnation was when God created male and female in the divine image, and the ultimate form of incarnation was Jesus. Yet all of creation, the earth, the stars, the universe, and all living things are reflections of and indeed incarnations of God.
We know this intuitively when we experience God in the wonder of the animal kingdom, the unconditional love of a pet, the brilliance of a sunset, the majesty of mountains, or the vastness of the oceans. It is reinforced by scripture. In Wisdom, we read, “Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan…For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” St. Paul picks this theme up in Romans, where he says, “For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.”
In our scholarly tradition, Anthony of the Desert and one of our great theologians Thomas Aquinas said that the first book of scripture is the natural world which was created as an expression of God. To quote from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica: “God brought things into being in order that his goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because his goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, he produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another.”
This view changes everything. If all of creation and every creatures is an embodiment of God, then I need to treat everyone and everything with the respect due to Jesus himself.
Jesus was often upset with people who didn’t understand, who felt they could take advantage of others for their own good or who placed obeying every dot of the law above love and mercy. And certainly in the order of creation we need to devote great care to how we treat and think about every person we encounter. In addition, though, I think God must cry over how we treat the earth, the animals, the atmosphere, and all the forms of God’s incarnation. When we abuse them, we abuse God. Increasingly, too, those things which are good for the planet also happen to be good for the people who live on it. We can’t so easily separate the two.
My challenge, then is to broaden my perspective. By myself, I certainly can’t reverse global warming or stop the deforestation of rain forests. I can’t stop people from dumping garbage into our oceans and rivers, nor ensure that animal habitats remain undisturbed. But I can do something. And if we all do something, with the grace of God, we may have a larger impact than we ever thought possible. My challenge this month is to choose at least one issue I believe is important for the animals, creation, and my fellow human beings, and have the courage to act. Will you join me?
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.