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Good and Bad Power
Good and Bad Power

Letting Go of Power

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Good and Bad Power

Letting Go of Power
Thursday, August 12, 2021

In her book The Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault describes how Jesus modeled the path of kenosis. Taken from the Greek word in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:5–9­), it means to “let go” or “to empty oneself.” In Jesus, this self-emptying pattern revealed itself as “not love stored up but love utterly poured out.” [1] Episcopal priest and author Stephanie Spellers writes about how Christians in the United States can practice “kenosis” for the common good.

Jesus’s life on earth was a purely kenotic, downwardly mobile path. . . . Jesus could have been a prince on a throne, holding power, riches, and every kind of privilege. Instead, he denied it. He let it go. . . . He consciously chose a path that assured suffering, humiliation, desolation, and finally death on a cross. In response, God lifted him up and gave him glory.

None of this was an accident or coincidence. Jesus entered as he did, where he did, doing what he did, because God needed us to finally comprehend the truth: God is not a sky king who heads an empire; God is the love that gives itself away for the sake of more love. Jesus could only communicate that point by standing outside the power structures and inviting disciples to join him and discover new life with him on the margins. . . .

In Jesus, God shows us what it looks like to be this vulnerable, humble, and self-giving. In him, we see one who did not run from the things that broke his heart, nor did he first calculate what he could gain from a situation. Jesus sought instead to give away his life, so he and others might flourish as God intends. . . .

God invites us into a covenant, where by the power of the Spirit we can choose to allow our hearts to break, and then take the pieces—our lives, our goods, our love, and our privileges—and share it all like a broken loaf of communion bread.

Granted, this is a very non-American way of being. Think of the phrases that shape our national identity. We assert our “right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”  which means we are free—and even expected—to organize our lives around our own individual desires. So much of our American story consists of groups of people protecting themselves and what’s theirs, with a gun or a flag or the cloak of racial, class, or gender privilege.

Jesus’s story is exactly the opposite. In this moment, as we reckon with the limits and consequences of self-centrism, domination systems, and the church’s capitulation to empire, we could lean into the Jesus way. We could reclaim kenosis, or perhaps claim it for the first time. . . . When you take something you possess—your bread and power, your abilities and identities, your comfort and control, your treasured structures and even life itself—and release your attachment to it and make it useful to God’s movement, you are practicing kenosis.

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 70.

Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (Church Publishing Incorporated: 2021), 91, 93, 94–95, 93.

Story from Our Community:
How fortunate I have been to find Fr. Rohr’s meditations. For too many years I felt alone in my belief system, only to find I was one of many! Rohr and the CAC provide the words necessary for my continuing journey. Without fear, I express these deep beliefs with others in a nonconfrontational manner. I am finding so many of my fellow Baby Boomers open to new thoughts—millennials are even more willing to hear and learn. God’s great inner peace to all. —Pamela W.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
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