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Self-Emptying and Kenosis: The Pattern of Reality

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trinity: Week 2

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in human likeness. —Philippians 2:6

Could this stanza of the great Philippian hymn be applied not only to Jesus but also to the entire Trinity? I believe so. The Three all live as an eternal and generous kenosis, the Greek word for self-emptying.

If we are to believe the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, then the Trinity—a circle dance of flow, communion, and relationship—which is the very nature of God, is the template for everything created (see Genesis 1:26-27). Every created thing is the self-emptying of God.

God is constantly outpouring. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can trust that self-emptying, knowing that the space created will be filled. Like a waterwheel of divine love, the Father empties all of himself into the Son. The Son receives and empties all of himself into the Spirit. The Spirit receives and empties all of himself/herself into the Father. The Father receives and the cycle continues. It’s no good telling people to let go if they can’t be assured they will be refilled, but the Trinity gives us a model for how that can happen. I can let go, because I trust I will always be filled up again. That is the pattern of reality.

If you’re protecting yourself, if you’re securing your own image and identity, then you’re still holding on. Your ego remains full of itself—the opposite of kenosis.

The intriguing thing about the mutuality of the Trinity is that the names, roles, and energies are really interchangeable. We don’t want to typecast the Father as the only infinite one, the Son as the only immanent one, or the Spirit as the only intimate one. All is absolutely given to the other and let go of. For the sake of our human minds, it’s helpful to identify three persons.

When all three of those divine qualities start drawing you into the flow and when you’re at home with Infinity, Immanence, and Intimacy—all Three—you’re finally living inside a Trinitarian spirituality.

I have often noticed these divine qualities in people who are marginalized, oppressed, “poor,” or “mentally challenged” more than in many others. They have to trust love. They need communion and mutuality.

Once you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable and received infinite grace, you will find ways to let the love flow through you, serving others. People filled with the flow will always move away from any need to protect their own power. They will be drawn to the powerless, the edge, the bottom, the plain, and the simple. They have all the power they need; it always overflows, and like water seeks the lowest crevices to fill.

Gateway to Silence:
In the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 90-91; and
Living School symposium, unpublished talk, August 2016.

Image credit: Three Russian Dancers (detail), Edgar Degas, 1895, National Museum, Stockholm Sweden.
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