Kenosis / self-emptying

If one is empty, then one is also open and able to receive what the Lord has to give.

Christian spiritual life means being animated by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ. The life of holiness to which all believers in Christ are called is one of ever greater resonance to the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit reminds us that even though “His state was divine, He did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the conditions of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross…” (Phil. 2:6-8).

If God is understood as Father, Son, Spirit toward us, for us, with us, and in us, then our response to this communion must lie in setting aside, standing apart from or above self-absorption, moving beyond self-preoccupation, self-indulgence, self-fixation. Holiness rests in becoming persons conformed to the image of God in us, being toward and for another, for others and for God. [Downey, Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality, 106].

Our fundamental desire and motivation is for God and the fullness of love, even if we are not consciously aware of it. Since we do not encounter God directly through our senses and concepts, we are drawn to what we can feel, see and grasp. We expect these things to satisfy us, without realizing that we are drawn to them only because they point to their Creator, the One for whom we truly long. We may even find our attraction to them becoming compulsive and destructive. This destroys our freedom. We allow these attachments to control our lives. Eventually, we discover that some attachments are obstacles to our deepest motivation and desire. We want to love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and love one another as ourselves. Yet, we find our hearts given elsewhere, our souls compelled by something else. [May, The Dark Night of the Soul , 58-62].

Self-emptying is a deliberate attack on our illusions and attachments. It is a turning away from abstraction in favor of what is actually present to us. It is the realization of our human limits. It is immersion in an environment in which our capacities are reduced to nothing and we are at the mercy of God to shape his will in us. An acknowledgement of our humanity before God, that we will always be developing and in process, is the beginning of self-emptying. [Kevin M. Cronin, Kenosis: Emptying Self and the Path of Christian Service (New York: Continuum, 1999), 19-20].

Rahner describes self-emptying when he speaks of leading our life such that we forget ourselves for God, when we love him, praise him, and thank him. Spiritual life in grace means that we realize the inner divine life in ourselves; it means waiting for eternity in faith, hope, and love, bearing the darkness of human existence; it means not identifying oneself just with this world. [Karl Rahner, Spiritual Exercises (New York: Herder and Herder, 1956), 318].

Self-emptying finds concrete expression in our response to the experience of loss. This can be the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of a job or the loss of status among one’s peers. This can also be experienced as change, such as in the loss of youthful vigour and the signs of advancing age as we approach the middle years of life. [Mary Ann McPherson Oliver, Conjugal Spirituality: The Primacy of Mutual Love in Christian Tradition (Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1994), 37]. Our children grow up and move out on their own. It is painful to let go of them and the parent-child relationship that is important to us. Yet, from the letting go, the loss of the parent-child relationship, there emerges something new. We discover a parent-adult child relationship that allows a greater depth and reciprocity than was ever possible in the more unidirectional parent-child relationship. The self-transcendence that ultimately enriches everyone involved is only possible by accepting the loss of what was. The Resurrection was only possible after the Crucifixion.

A man cannot enter into the deepest centre of himself and pass through that centre into God, unless he is able to pass entirely out of himself and empty himself and give himself to other people in the purity of a selfless love. [Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1949; reprint, New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1960), 41 (page citations are to the reprint edition)].

“Openness” is the result of self-emptying. If one is empty, then one is also open and able to receive what the Lord has to give. It is acceptance of the transcendent, a willingness to go out beyond the present circumstances. Self-emptying is not fruitful unless it is also open to other possibilities. Self-emptying/openness is generative.

An Introductory Course in Christian Spirituality

Cronin sees kenosis as a “…resolute divesting of the person of every claim of self interest so as to be ready to live the Gospel of Christ in every aspect of living, freed from the dictates of personal preferences…,”[Cronin, K. M. 1992. Kenosis. Rockport: Element.].

I think that John said it best : He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).

What is your concept of kenosis?

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