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).


RC said...

Wow! This a very powerful post, very well expressed. It's the core, the center, of what contemplative prayer is about. And what our Living Stones Community is about, I think. I'm grateful for this post and even more grateful to be sharing this kind of spiritual practice together.
--Thank you, Rickey

Bill said...

wonderful connections between the self-emptying, perichoresis, and kenosis. Ultimately Jesus death on the cross was his final self emptying. Even so as I learn to live in obedience toobey God it requires, at least for me, a daily, moment by moment self emptying or dying to self.

Even the discipline of Practicing the Presence is emptying me of focus on me and as I am filled with worship and focus on God there is a self emptying.

The encouragement of all of you is very helpful in keeping me dedicated to my practice of Centering Prayer.

I would appreciate your prayers as I have asked God to bring some people across my path at church who would be interested in beginning a Centering Prayer service.


living stones said...

Paul,thanks for this insightful, thoughtful post. It does seem that as we grow in our ability to let go we grow in love bit by bit. Too often we think in terms of big deals, but real love is demonstrated in little things all day long. It is an incredible blessing to share these practices with others. Bill, I appreciate your insightful comment to Paul's post, and I will keep your request in my heart--may God give you folks at church to pray with soon.
--Blessings, Anna

Derek M Larson said...

Thank you for this! Kenosis has been a frequent theme in my life lately. It is such a challenging process and practice. If I am honest with myself, I wonder how much "self-emptying" I really desire. My prayer is that the desire will continue to grow. With the help of this community (face to face and on this website) I have received much encouragement regarding the process and practice. Thank you all!

As a side note, I play in a band and there is one line we sing that is particularly relevant to this conversation.
"Scrape the me out of me like pumpkin seeds!"

Rehoboth said...

Thank you for this post, Paul. I'm finding that unless I see the disappointments, and pain as an opportunity to die to myself, there is no way to make sense of what otherwise seem to be nonsensical experiences.


Daniel said...

Paul, I really appreciate the way your reflection encourages deep spirituality through tiny surrenders, or as Anna put it, the "little things all day long." Your prayer is mine, too. I want to grow in these small acts of love through community and practice.

Sarah said...

Emptying of self is such a hard thing -- even in little bits. Thank you for your encouragement and reflection on it, Paul. May your prayer be our prayer.

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