I want to share with you a few of my own reflections on kenosis and why it is so important for our spiritual journey. So your first question is, what in the world is kenosis? Kenosis is found in the Apostle Paul’s admonition to his readers in his letter to the Philippians. “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who . . . did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. . . .” (Philippians 2: 5-7)
The phrase “emptied himself” is the English translation of the Greek word “kenosis.” It is the opposite of the word “cling.” In everything Jesus did, he lived and breathed kenosis. He did not cling to his life or to any self-importance, not even his divine nature. In his living and in his dying, he let go without resistance. That self-emptying humility was the mind of Christ into which Paul invites his readers and us. The mind of Christ is one of profound trust in the Divine Indwelling and that trust invites our consent and our surrender. Surely this self-emptying kenotic mind of Christ informed his prayer life as well.
The mind of Christ, that self-emptying humility, is very counter to our predominant culture, which prioritizes power, esteem, security, success, achievement, status, and wealth. Values like self-emptying humility, generosity, vulnerability and service to others are in short supply. If we’re lucky, the last five minutes of the national news may tell a story about someone who demonstrates those values, which of course serves to remind us how rare they are.
The mind of Christ invites us to let go. But letting go is not our inclination. Our inclination is to cling to our lives, to hang on, to keep ourselves safe and secure. We resist making ourselves vulnerable. It is only by God’s grace that we can begin to have the self-emptying kenotic mind that was in Christ.
And that mind is central to our spiritual journey. You and I know down deep that if we want our lives to be full and rich, we can’t count on our achievements, or our success, or our wealth to deliver what we’re looking for. It is only as we let go that our lives are transformed into a new way of being. Contemplative practice reveals the paradox that as we empty ourselves, we are filled with God’s presence, God’s love, God’s grace.
Self-emptying, kenosis, letting go: it is the path of Jesus. As we follow that path ourselves, as we let our thoughts go without clinging to them, without commentary, as we let go of our attachments to our old ways and to what we think is so important, as we consent to the Divine Indwelling, something new is born within us. Centering Prayer is a practice of self-emptying that opens us to the mind of Christ and creates space for humility, compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness, service and justice. Those are the fruits of a spiritual journey centered on the mind of Christ and that’s where true happiness is found.
In Centering Prayer we empty ourselves and wait in silence trusting that God will give us what we most need for our healing and transformation. It is a practice that exercises the letting go muscle in our mind. Our intention is to consent to God’s presence and action within and that consent is set in motion as we sit in silence letting thoughts come and letting them go. And whenever we find ourselves engaged with a thought, or a memory, or a reflection, or a body sensation, or anything at all, we use our sacred symbol to renew our intention to consent. That is our practice of kenosis, the self-emptying, that invites us into the mind of Christ and into the Divine Indwelling presence of unconditional love and grace, which over time, transforms everything we say, do, think and feel.
Simone Weil said; “Grace fills the empty spaces but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Quote from a Richard Rohr daily meditation, May 27, 2017)
Grace leads us into the emptiness and grace alone fills it with love.
– Donald Bredthauer