Kenosis is a theological term that simply means emptying. In Philippians 2, we read:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of humanity. Being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Again, in Hebrews 2, we hear an echo of this idea of Jesus as a divine being, who becomes a creature like other humans are creatures.
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things. . . .
Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.
My problem with kenosis as we have traditionally thought of it, is that separates the spiritual and the material, as if the divine were present only in the one. In 21st century consciousness, we have become aware of the problem of dualisms, up/down, over/under. We are aware that we share the DNA of a planet, not just a species. We know that the earth under our feet is a living organism, populated by untold numbers of other organisms from the microscopic to the gigantic. The so-called butterfly effect is simply a matter of obvious reality now.
I wonder how Jesus could possibly divest himself of the divine without simply disappearing. With many others, I experience the divine not only as an external presence, but also as the that which rushes between the atoms in the life of everything and can be seen in both the grandeur and simplicity of all that is. For our minds now, the question of the dual nature of Christ has ceased to have resonance or it is a matter of intellectual indifference. So what do we do with the idea of kenosis now?
In the temptation story, we read about Jesus divesting himself of human ambition, political power, even the authority of status. In the story of his baptism, he bows to the teaching of another. From the women whom encounters, his theology and his mission shifts. Jesus empties himself of the barriers that stand between people in relationship. For Jesus, this is also true of the Holy One. Jesus walks with confidence in the presence of his God. He seems to be free from the ordinary anxiety of being right, or judged, or needy of affirmation. With other people, Jesus is similarly free to associate, to speak, to interact, without the usual nervous hesitation most of us share.
Jesus divests himself of the bruised ego, allowing himself to be open to each experience as if it were new. Because he seems to be very little concerned about himself in these encounters. He sees others clearly, booth in our grace and in our hypocrisy.
Jesus offers us a picture of how that freedom might look. True freedom is neither harsh, nor judgemental, neither grasping, nor self concerned. Not many of us, even with a lot of spiritual direction and/or therapy will find ourselves as whole as Jesus. In our communities, however, we can begin to start thinking in wholistic terms. Instead of acting out of self interest, we can divest ourselves of institutional anxieties and ask instead what we are doing for the vulnerable, for the needy, the hungry, the refugees, and so on. We can begin to think about the earth as the first garden and choose the task of restoration. We can turn from the lure of power and privilege and adopt the kenotic quality of Jesus who counted nothing for himself and everything for the task of healing, of justice, of protection.
Madeleine L’Engle wrote about how it feels to live in the light of Christ.
The kind of unself-consciousness I’m thinking about becomes clearer to me when I turn to a different discipline: for instance, that of playing a Bach fugue at the piano, precisely because I will never be a good enough pianist to play a Bach fugue as it should be played. But when I am actually sitting at the piano, all there is for me is the music. I am wholly in it, unless I fumble so badly that I perforce become self-conscious. Mostly, no matter how inadequate my playing, the music is all that matters: I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love. (Glimpses of Grace)
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