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Divine Embodiment

In late June I went to England with my daughter for a two-week cycling trip.  At the halfway mark we had lunch with Rowan Williams, recently retired as the Archbishop of Canterbury.  I treasured our visit with him – the sheer delight of sharing the company of someone as down to earth, humorous, honest, deeply thoughtful and trenchantly brilliant as he, and being able to do so without any agenda attached.

In the wake of our visit I found myself reflecting on the presence of the Divine, and I eventually articulated what had been trying to make itself known: you cannot be fully embodied without a sense of the Divine.

Let me explain.  First, by “a sense of the Divine” I am speaking of an abiding truth that every culture has felt and named and imagined in its own way.  Each and every clear visualization of the Divine is an accurate perspective, and is at the same time an incomplete one: no limited representation can convey what is limitless.  However you might feel the presence of the Divine, though, at the core of your experience is likely the sense of a love that mindfully suffuses all things; and that sense reveals the world to be a living expression of that love.

The other side of my explanation has to do with what it means to be “fully embodied”.  Our culture inclines us to imagine embodiment as a condition that is achieved within the boundary of our skin.  But to be fully embodied is to be fully present to the world, and that means that you are feeling the world in your body: you are feeling its presence living inside you, resonating at a cellular level.  As you fully enter the present, its energy and particulars and ‘flow’ fully enter you, informing you with a subtlety that is beyond the range of the rational mind.  To be fully embodied, then, asks that you welcome the world’s presence into your body.

If you have no sense of the divine, then you will believe that all the world’s events are created entirely by miniscule particles of matter interacting with mathematical inevitability.  This belief tells us that the essence of the world is dead.  That is a stumbling block when it comes to embodiment: who could invite a dead presence to live within them?  You can only invite the world to live within you when you feel it as a living presence – and to feel it as a living presence is to feel its essence as Divine.

So that is why I say that you cannot be fully embodied without a sense of the Divine.  But there is a telling corollary to that as well: your ability to sense the Divine similarly relies on embodiment – each facilitates the other.  That fact might go some way towards explaining why a culture such as ours, which promotes living in the head as normal, is largely dismissive of anything other than a strictly material universe.  It’s all we can feel.  Our deep mistrust of the body leaves us mistrustful of knowledge about anything that by its nature cannot be separated from the world and studied as such.  Consciousness is one such phenomenon, as is the Divine – neither can be separated from the world.  Both can be experienced, though – and the deeper the embodiment, the more profound the experience of each.

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