Thursday, January 14, 2016

INCARNATION -- reflections

    This painting is of what one calls a "corpus," the body of Christ as a vulnerable and suffering human being, now taken down from the cross, dead.   It's really more of an Easter subject.  Technically speaking, this figure shows the "dis-incarnation" of Jesus.  It presented a problem, since the Christ (the un-human, transcendent and eternal part of this boundary-of-life-occupier) has presumably left for Heaven, making this body a husk or discarded chrysalis.  But the body was the only way ordinary people could have known him, so his flesh was dear to them.  They were cheered by the idea that he came back for his body to show he had resurrected.

    It isn't just a problem for Christians, but for all humans who love those who die.  Death means that the instrument through which life flowed has gone.  In fact, that instrument may have caused enormous pain and be gladly left behind.  But also the body is the source of human beings, the location of the baby's carnal accumulation into a separate identity.  The body is both our cradle and our coffin.  The flesh is the wood from which they are made.

    The human desire to spread their own world-view as far as they can, to achieve some kind of unity that will lend a sort of permanence, is very strong.  Early missionaries pushed hard and Euro culture was powerful enough (including their germs) to discredit the pre-existing world order of America even in the minds of the indigenous.  Yet now at least some people want to recapture that earlier understanding.  One strategy they try is equivalence.  

    It would not be quite accurate to say Jesus was the buffalo of the Christians, but in some dimension it's not such an irrelevant idea.  "Incarnation" is generally the connection between what is spiritual, unknowable and essential and that which is physical, vulnerable, and subject to death.  For the Siksika a buffalo was not just an ethnic "dish," but a connection to what is eternal and renewing.  It was not one animal, but an endless source of existence.
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    WIKI:  Incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. It refers to the conception and birth of a sentient being who is the material manifestation of an entity, god or force whose original nature is immaterial.

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    WIKI:  In the teaching of the Buddha sentient beings incarnate due to the psychological factors of ignorancecraving and clinging which results in the phenomenon of becoming and rebirth. To be born human is considered a great privilege because unlike other mammals even a person of average intelligence with sufficient effort and proper guidance can walk the path of dharma and become liberated from the cycle of rebirth. The motive force in the process of material incarnation and becoming (popularly known as 'life') is attachment to and identification with matter. 

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    Narnia, in other words, is an allegory that lacks incarnation. 
    And you can't have a Christ figure without incarnation.

    WIKI:  The Sanskrit word avatar (or avatara) literally means “descent.”  It refers to the descent of divinity from heaven to earth, and is typically used to describe an incarnation of God. 

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    The formation of a new religion is often expressed as the advent of a new incarnation, someone or something from another dimension arriving in this one with information we didn’t have.  The important part of incarnation is that the new substance is the same one as ours: flesh, which is capable of suffering and ecstasy as well as daily rounds of chores and maintenance.   But an “avatar” in today’s computer parlance is usually considered to be an appearance (gnostic in Christian terms and considered a heresy because of the doctrinal importance of Jesus having actual bleeding flesh) that is virtual, not real, not flesh, but an idea or image.

    We are at this strange technological place where flesh is being replaced by not-real avatars or in other ways replaced by machines of metal and silicon, escaping pain or joy in equal measure but computing and coding in a great torrent.

    Since major competing religions developed in sequence, coming out of each other over centuries, the issue of flesh and incarnation are often central.  Whole countries have been "crucified".  Entire tribes.  In a different way the curving, pulsing flesh of real human beings has been reduced to the strict cross of the quadrant data graph, demographically reduced to height or income or gender in no more than two dimensions.  At least, due to the computers, we can add time now and make the graph move as things develop.

    But in our zeal to find out the percentage of cancer deaths or cures, the rise and fall of the stock market, the evidence of global warming, we lose the reality of the human beings.  We disincarnate ourselves.

    In previous writing, ecologically based, I’ve suggested that the planet itself is an incarnation (though primarily mineral, far more than a human body) that mediates between the inconceivable and the local, not just felt but incorporated (corporate=body=corpus) into our flesh.  We are made of the world, each of us an avatar of our place on the surface of the continents among the currents of wind and tide.

    Talk like this can scare a missionary or other proselytizer hoping to impose a one-celled understanding of bodies in single-religion terms.  They institutionalize the gravitational pull of centripetal force, opposed to the centrifuge of time that tries to force entropy everywhere.  The push/pull of the two create the bell curve of graphics, converting quadrants into a roller-coaster of time that makes change inevitable.

    On the one hand I’m talking garble, word stick-game, because on some level all religious systems are the same thing.  Halfway between math and dream.  All anyone can really know is what their skin and brain conspire to teach them, which is the incredible complexity of existence and importance of tiny things: one atom out of place in one molecule and the bodily system of circulating fluid carrying synergistic cells goes berzerk and kills the creature.

    “Knowing” is a synonym for sexual interaction with another person.  Not the same kind of knowing as their phone number or name, but knowing the rhythm of their breath and heartbeat, knowing the taste and acid/alkali ph of their skin, exploring the impact your actions and words can have on them.  Knowing their flesh.  Wanting this is what creates a new life made of nucleated cells in a long line going back through all all creatures, all substances, to the energy patterns of the first cell, possibly formed in the black fumes of a sub-sea volcanic vent.  But it is so profligate, so pressing, that we participate regardless of outcome.

    To me, this is more powerful and amazing than any system of God making people out of clay or managing to define part of Himself as a Son which He somehow sends to earth through Mary’s womb.  It is more surprising than an avatar blue elephant with many arms.  But it is not different in terms of trying to “know” how the world works and what our place in it might be, flesh that we are.  Surely not meant to be slaves.  Surely meant to be loved.  At this point, what does it matter whether one calls it science or religion?  Or myth.

    The division point from invented image as well as silicon or metal machine is sex.  Not just replication, but "felt" union and interchange, something to be honored.  Something done by flesh and the consciousness it generates.

1 comment:

northern nick said...

I'm with ya. I love the thought you give.