Seeing God-With-Us Michael Morwood
On Christmas Eve, Maria and I attended the American Ballet Theatre’s presentation of The Nutcracker in New York. Ballet would not be listed among my favorite sources of entertainment, but on this occasion I was profoundly moved. What moved me so much was not just the work of art itself, but the way I found myself present to it, taking it in. I sat there reflecting on the wonder of whatever is at work in the universe that can move atoms manufactured billions of years ago in the life and death of a star, through transformation after transformation, into Tchaikovsky, into such beautiful music, into the beauty and grace of dancers, and into me reflecting on how this all happened.
On New Year’s Day I went for a long walk on the Appalachian Trail and listened for a time to The World’s Greatest Operatic Arias. The music led me to reflect on Verdi, Mozart and others and the question: Where does this music come from? And how come Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti and these other singers give such wonderful expression to the music. What is going on here? I concluded that Tchaikovsky and Mozart did not add anything to the universe through their music. Rather, the universe found a way through them to give expression to itself.
I was moved again by a sense of wonder. Then a question arose: where else in the breadth of the universe is there such a phenomenon as “wonder”? Is the human species unique in this? As I considered these questions, the words, “appreciation” and “gratitude” came to mind also. Are we humans, because of the nature of our conscious awareness, the only life-form capable of combining wonder, appreciation and gratitude? And if so, should these sentiments which the universe has produced in us as an expression of itself be somehow an essential aspect of what “human” is meant to be?
I think Jesus must have given wonderful human expression to wonder, appreciation and gratitude. I also see him inviting me to take these wonderful human qualities to an even deeper level. Here and now in the 21st century I can marvel at the way atoms and stardust are transformed into the life form we are. Jesus lived in a quite different worldview, but across the centuries that bridge his life and mine he can reach into my mind and into my sense of wonder and move me to even more appreciation and gratitude. I can imagine Jesus saying to me, “Michael, the human enterprise and the universe in which it has come to be is God-charged; you not only give the universe a way of manifesting itself, you give “God”, the Ground of all Being, a way of coming to expression. That is what it means to be human. Take in this good news about yourself and everyone else, see everything around you differently – and live accordingly.”
I know my Christmas and New Year reflections arise from years of seeking to learn more and more about the contemporary scientific data about our universe and our human origins – and from trying to see the world round me as Jesus would want me to see it. I know also that in this seeing and learning, I have come to see and know Jesus differently. I see what I have always been led to see and believe – that Jesus embodied the Divine Presence in human form. When I bring his story to the contemporary scientific story about our human origins and how life evolved on earth I’m being led to a new awareness and appreciation of the Divine Presence all around me, bonding all that exists. I now think it was this awareness and appreciation that drove Jesus when he preached about “the kingdom of God”. He wanted people to see what he saw: people giving human expression to the Divine in their living and loving.
I see Jesus differently now. I see him as revealer of the Divine-always-here-with-us, rather than as the unique gateway to a God in the heavens. I see myself differently. I am not living in exile from a God. Far from it. I have this wonderful opportunity – my lifetime – to give human expression to the universe and to the Divine Presence charging it. I see the world around me differently. I see the task of the Church differently. I see prayer and sacraments differently.
What I most appreciate and am challenged by in this perspective is that Jesus was concerned about this world, about the Divine Presence with me in this world, and about me giving the best possible human expression to this Presence. His call to conversion to me, and to anyone who wants to listen to him, is not about winning a place in heaven. It is not about winning forgiveness from a God who was withholding it for some reason. Rather, it is a passionate plea that we really “see” the Creative Divine Presence all around us, in all of us, here and now. It is a passionate plea that we use this “seeing” to transform our personal, social, religious, political, legal, educational and economic interactions.