The Christmas Season: Incarnation and Reincarnation

Winter SunsetWe are in December and Christmas draws close. Living in far northern Vermont. we are experiencing the intensity and immediacy of climate change. The ground is bare and the temperatures, even with the new 30 year averages, are consistently well above historical norms. As a result, ticks are still active and Lyme disease remains a threat, even in December.

I read recently an article postulating reincarnation is not possible. The proof offered was the well over seven billion persons now inhabiting the Earth. Seven billion is, of course, a larger number than all the people who have lived on the planet during human history. The argument seems to be that humans only incarnate as humans. This seemed to me a rather odd position. For many shamanic peoples, reincarnation occurs throughout the universe, and the departed may take on many forms, including that of a new human being. We might also become trees, stars, crickets, birds, and almost anything else that exists.

Christmas, of course, is about incarnation. The Christmas story focuses on the anticipation of a few people, as they await the incarnation of God into human form. For many Christians, this incarnation is a singular event. Yet for Indigenous people across the globe, both incarnation and reincarnation are ongoing. God is immediate, incarnate, and reincarnate, and so are the Ancestors and loved ones. Indeed, the landscape is alive with incarnated/reincarnated being. The very air we breath is filled with the essence of all who have gone before, and they are, in some tangible way, reincarnated in us, through our breathing. In a sense, even the Lyme bacteria becomes simultaneously incarnate and reincarnated through us.

The landscape, indeed the world, are sacred for they hold the bones and breath of the Ancestors, human and non. Yet this sense of the sacred extends well beyond simple physical remaining. The landscape is also the home of the gods, those powers that give shape to our lives, before whom we experience awe. It is the intersection of Psyche and place, the Holy and the everyday, which becomes holy in our awareness of the transcendent that is grounded in the physicality of place and body.

Reincarnation is the great cycle of becoming, being, and becoming. It is a way of speaking to the transitory nature of all states and beings, and the continuity we sometimes sense in our Selves. Reincarnation hints at the wholeness underlying both continuity and change. It is fundamentally conservative, acknowledging the sacredness of all places and beings, and our infinitely connected nature. Reincarnation remains a dangerous concept, for it argues for lives filled with caring, care taking, and stewardship. It encourages ceremony and deep connection, and argues against rabid consumption. In short, Reincarnation challenges many of the most cherished norms of the post-industrial world. And yet, seen from another perspective, our culture’s disregard for the sacred in the world, and ourselves, is just another face of the great cycles of birth and death, incarnation and reincarnation.

As we await, in the gathering darkness of early winter, the arrival of Christmas, may we notice that God’s incarnation in the world is ongoing, that reincarnation is the rule rather than the exception, and that we are offered seemingly endless opportunities to be of service to the Sacred. May we, like the child of the Christmas story, become lights in the world.

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