Loving Our Neighbor

Self-Emptying

Loving Our Neighbor
Friday, December 15, 2017

This week I’ve shared a few quotes from theologian Sallie McFague. Today I’d like to offer a longer excerpt from her book, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint. Sallie invites us into practical methods of self-emptying—kenosis—that we need if humans and so many other species are to survive.

[W]hile other fields contributing to solving our planetary crises often end their studies with the despairing remark, “Of course, it is a spiritual, an ethical problem,” the religions of the world should offer their distinctive answer: “Yes, it is, and let us look at the process of change from belief to action.”

The fourfold process from belief to action contains the following steps.

  1. Experiences of “voluntary poverty” to shock middle-class people out of the conventional model of self-fulfillment through possessions and prestige, and into a model of self-emptying, as a pathway for personal and planetary well-being. It can become a form of “wild space” [what I would call liminal space], a space where one is available for deep change from the conventional model of living to another one.
  2. The focus of one’s attention to the needs of others, especially their most physical, basic needs, such as food. This attention changes one’s vision from seeing all others as objects for supporting one’s own ego to seeing them as subjects in their own right who deserve the basic necessities for flourishing. We see everything in the world as interdependent.
  3. The gradual development of a “universal self,” as the line constituting one’s concern (compassion or empathy) moves from its narrow focus on the ego (and one’s nearest and dearest) to reach out further and further until there is no line left: even a caterpillar counts. This journey, rather than diminishing the self, increases its delight, but at the cost of one’s old, egoistic model.
  4. The new model of the universal self operates at both the personal and public levels, for instance in the planetary house rules: (1) take only your share; (2) clean up after yourself; (3) keep the house in good repair for those who will use it after you.

. . . [I]f one understands God to be not a “substance” but the active, creative love at work in the entire universe, then “loving God” is not something in addition to loving the world, but is rather the acknowledgement that in loving the world, one is participating in the planetary process (which some identify as “God”) of self-emptying love at all levels. By understanding both “God” and the world in this way—that is, as radically kenotic—this essay can be read as both Christian and interfaith. Thus all can participate in the kenotic paradigm as a way of loving the neighbor, a process in which God’s own self may also be seen at work.

Gateway to Silence:
Let it go; let it be.

Reference:
Sallie McFague, Blessed Are the Consumers: Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint (Fortress Press: 2013), xii-xiv.

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