During the Christmas season the words of Meister Eckhart are never far from my mind. Eckhart (1260 – 1327/8) was born in Erfurt in Thuringia (Germany). He is one of the better known Rhineland Mystics. A recurring theme in his work is that of the eternal Word of God not only being born in time and humanity through Jesus – it is also that this Word is born in time and humanity through us. Eckhart’s German Sermons in particular highlight this birth of the Word in the world through Jesus and us. For example:
Here in time we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and unceasingly bears in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature.
What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me? That it should happen in me is what matters.
In Christian theology, the eternal Word, this creative movement of the divine life, is that manifestation of the divine life that brings all of Creation into being and existence, and which eventually became incarnate (personified, embodied) in the humanity of Jesus. This Word, as a manifestation of the divine life, is uncreated Love creating.
For Eckhart this Word is always seeking birth and expression within Creation. It did not stop in Jesus. It is a condition of our humanity to have this Word in us seeking a conscious birthing in the world through us. It is a condition of the Word as Love (other-centred and giving) that it be always seeking this expression.
What is in us that can stop this birthing of Love did not stifle Love’s reality in Jesus. As a result Jesus, both within himself and in his actions, lived a radically human and loving life. In this, Jesus shows us that to be human is to be loving. And in Jesus humanity has become a full participant in the divine Love-life of God. The resurrection of Jesus is the Gospel witnessing to this full participation.
God now “unceasingly bears” the both human and divine Word in God’s own life and in us. And so, this human and divine Word can now be birthed in us – if we want it. God can be birthed in us because God was born in Jesus.
This is how, in effect, Christianity ‘gets around’ the creature/Creator distinction that is so important to its theology, while still maintaining the integrity of this distinction. With the human and divine Word of Jesus God unifies this distinction in God’s own life. This ‘unified distinction-in-God’ then becomes the catalyst through which the divine life can deify our earthly human nature. Divinity can make us divine because Divinity became human in Jesus.
To be deified, or divinised, is to have the life of God already in us be born in us. It is to allow this Word, this Christ, this Love in creative action, to transform our whole humanity so that the image of God that we each uniquely and mysteriously are can be lived by us and clearly seen by others. This is the process of a lifetime. It is Eckhart who says: ‘The more and more clearly God’s image shows in us, the more evidently God is born in us.’
It is our lack of faith and belief that this deifying can actually happen to us that stops this divinisation from happening.
Christmas, for me, as well as being the celebration of this Word incarnate in the birth of Jesus, is also about the potentialities of this creative Word in us. In the Incarnation our divinisation here and now becomes possible. It is this divinisation that makes possible the revealing of this Word, this Christ, in the world through us. In the words of Peter:
By his divine power, he has lavished on us all the things we need for life and for true devotion, through the knowledge of him who has called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, the greatest and priceless promises have been lavished on us, that through them you should share the divine nature and escape the corruption rife in the world through disordered passion. (2Pet 1:3,4).
Disordered passion in this sense can be the way in which we attach and cling to the material and the temporary of life as if these were God. To be both deified and material is to walk through the world consciously sharing in God’s immortality, being sensitive to that of us which transcends the material of life. The temporary of life is no longer a divine surrogate for us because we are living in Divinity as deified and earthly humanity.
In the simplicity and stillness of our meditation practice the promise of our earthly human nature becoming divine is quietly being realised. The discipline of our gentle returning to the mantra after distraction is the prayerful way through which we are deified. As the mantra sinks with attention deeply into our heart and being, we grow in a silence that resonates with God’s life in us. In this resonating our humanity and Christ become one. It is in this way that all the desires of life become a divine and human expression of the Love life of God (that is, not disordered).
The internal conditions for our divine birthing described by Eckhart share a striking similarity to the conditions promoted by meditation:
The soul in which this birth is to take place must keep absolutely pure and must live in noble fashion, quite collected, and turned entirely inward: not running out through the five senses into the multiplicity of creatures, but all inturned and collected and in the purest part: there is His place; He disdains anything else. (Eckhart, German Sermon 1).
Meditation, as contemplative prayer, is the practice of inturning and recollecting our senses towards God. The more we can turn attention inward and live life inwardly turned towards God, the more this birthing, this deifying, takes place.
May Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word we carry in our hearts, continue to be the catalyst for our divinisation in the year to come. His Spirit, God’s Spirit, is with us. We already are God’s children. Divinisation is the birthing of this reality in the material of our life.