Kenosis: Letting Go

Contemplation: Week 2

Kenosis: Letting Go
Friday, December 21, 2018

[Contemplative] practices beckon earthbound bodies toward an expanded receptivity to holiness. . . . Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of intellect and senses in a spiritual reunion and oneness with God. . . . [The] contemplative moment is a spiritual event that kisses the cognitive but will not be enslaved to its rigidities. —Barbara Holmes [1]

Over the past two weeks I’ve shared how contemplation is a way (or many ways) of opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to God’s presence. It helps us recognize and surrender our egoic, small self and live into our True Self, made in the image and likeness of God.

Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, describes the power of contemplative practices such as Centering Prayer to instill in us the mind of Christ.

[Centering Prayer’s] simple but powerful pathway of transformation illumines . . . what it means to “put on the mind of Christ.” . . . The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice. . . .

Saint Paul explains this principle by way of his beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, prefacing his comments by saying, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”:

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not deem equality with God
something he should cling to.

Rather he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness. . . .

The phrase “emptied himself” in line 4 is the English translation of the Greek verb kenosein, which is where the word kenosis comes from. In context, you’ll see exactly what it means: it’s the opposite of the word “cling” in line 3. Jesus is practicing gentle release. And he continues to practice it in every moment of his life, as the next verse of the hymn makes clear:

He being known as one of us
humbled himself obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.

How beautifully simple—the path of Jesus hidden right there in plain sight! While some Christians are still reluctant to think of Jesus as teaching a path (isn’t it enough simply to be the Son of God?), in fact, the Gospels themselves make clear that he is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchstone throughout all his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32).

And it’s this same core gesture we practice in Centering Prayer: thought by thought by thought. You could really summarize Centering Prayer as kenosis in meditation form.

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 3.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 33-34.

Image credit: Dancers in Green and White Dresses, Vinicius Vilela.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move . . . toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. —Barbara Holmes

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