Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kenosis Is Love

Let what was seen in Christ Jesus be seen in you also:

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not claim equality with God
something he should cling to.

Rather he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness.

He being known as one of us,
Humbled himself obedient unto death
Even death on a cross. . . .
In this profound theological reflection, Paul sees that self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus' human journey.

--Cynthia Bourgeault, quoting from Philippians 2 as translated by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, California
I've come into some useful insights recently while reading Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. These insights are deepening my understanding of the practices of centering prayer and the welcoming prayer and my understanding of what it means to be human. Bourgeault says that "self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus' human journey. Self-emptying is what first brings him into human form, and self-emptying is what leads him out . . ." and self-emptying is what he does continually in between.

In a world of pain like ours, when this pouring out of one's self is too often one-sided, what this self-emptying looks like is the cross. We can call it kenosis, which is the Greek term translated above in reference to Christ as he emptied himself. In a perfect world, though, what it looks like is not the cross but the trinity. We could call it perichoresis, which is the Greek term for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continually pouring themselves into each other.

In any case, we can simply call it love. Love is pouring out the self for, or in the best cases into, the other. "Greater love has no one than this, but to lay down one's life for a friend . . ." And since love is all that it is, we can see that kenosis/perichoresis/self-emptying/letting go has nothing to do with any sort of esoteric spirituality  but is simply about being human. This is why Bourgeault says that self emptying was the touchstone of Jesus' humanity.

In terms of concrete spiritual practice, in centering prayer each time a thought or feeling is "let go" one takes part a little bit in this surrender, this becoming nothing, this emptying one's self. Such micro surrenders also train us to surrender larger things, such as the tensions and frustrations that we let go of in the midst of our day to day activities, say, in the welcoming prayer. Those surrenders  in turn also take part in the process and also train us to let go of still larger things, such as anger, bitterness, disappointment, or an addition to comfort.

My prayer is for a heart that clings to nothing and seeks only God. My prayer is for a pure heart. My prayer is to follow Christ along the daily path of self-emptying (kenosis) to eternal fount of love (perichoresis).

Blog Archive