Christianity uses the word “incarnation” mainly to refer to Jesus of Nazareth understood as the Word of God, come down from heaven and made flesh, a person in whom divine and human natures were mysteriously and gloriously united.
Hinduism and Buddhism regard us all as having had previous incarnations. And Hinduism speaks of “avatars,” deities who have incarnated in this world, perhaps including Jesus and Buddha as well as Krishna. Buddhism regards Buddha as having had previous incarnations.
Many other religions, for example, Judaism and Islam, have no equivalent to the above teachings; but the idea that God communicates with human beings is very widespread. And this idea implies that divine truth makes itself manifest in a way that is humanly perceptible to inner or outer sense.
Another second idea is sometimes associated with the term “incarnation”: we can make divine truth, beauty, and goodness real in our spiritual, intellectual, and bodily lives. We need to embody divinity in every phase of life.
As we grow in our receptivity to divine truth as variously manifest and in our ability to make that truth real in our lives, our differences of belief and conviction can function more harmoniously.
After the Dayton Accords of 1995 brought to an end the devastation of Bosnia in the conflict between ethnic and religious groups, Franciscan Friar Ivo Markovic founded Pontanima Interreligious Choir. The choir includes Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and they sing religious music expressing each of these traditions. They perform not only in concert halls on ordinary days but also on the holidays of the various religions and in their places of worship. Over half of the choir had been musicians in the national symphony, and they quickly gained a reputation as the best choir in southeastern Europe. When they came to Kent State University, I experienced the most powerful group of persons of faith I had ever met as well as several choral pieces as inspiring as any others I have heard. Half-way through the concert, we made time for questions and answers, and it was extraordinary dialogue; but it left me with the conviction that far stronger than dialogue is doing things together.
May our lives sing together.