by Richard Rohr OFM


Last week we looked at the harmony that can be found at the depths of all the world’s diverse religions. Though we are all walking different paths, the destination is the same: union with Love. When Christians get back to the foundations and the One we follow, Jesus Christ, we see that self-emptying and incarnation are both key to this journey. And both are especially important and helpful at this critical moment when the health of our planet and its life forms are seriously at risk.

Kenosis, or self-emptying, is revealed in the Trinity. The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century saw that God the Father, who is Love, completely empties God’s self into the Son; the Son empties into the Spirit; and the Spirit empties into the Father. Incarnation flows from this kenosis that is inherent to God’s nature.

The first incarnation happened at the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Every created thing is the self-emptying of God into multitudinous physical and visible forms. Two thousand years ago, God revealed the human face of love through the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus taught us to follow him down the path of humility, servanthood, and surrender. As Paul writes, “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, being born in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6).

This is, as Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “the way of kenosis, the revolutionary path that Jesus introduced into the consciousness of the West.” [1] Jesus’ entire life demonstrates how God loves unconditionally and selflessly. Why hasn’t Western Christianity emphasized what seems so obvious and clear? Cynthia explains:

What makes this mode so interesting is that it’s almost completely spiritually counterintuitive. For the vast majority of the world’s spiritual seekers, the way to God is “up.” Deeply embedded in our religious and spiritual traditions—and most likely in the human collective unconscious itself—is a kind of compass that tells us that the spiritual journey is an ascent, not a descent.

. . . Jesus had only one “operational mode.”. . . In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher. [2]