As part of leading a group in playing “cache cache” in the Jardin de Luxembourg this week, I found myself looking at a piece of paper that gave me the following challenge: “Find something that represents your idea of following Jesus”.
Now, I’ve been thinking and rethinking about this sort of thing for a good while now….what it actually means to follow the way of Jesus. In fact, it was I who wrote this phrase on the paper that I held in my hand. At first, several past, “default” ideas popped into my mind that I could have easily reflected on again….but that was just it….”again”. Didn’t I have any new ideas on this? Then I realized that, yes, I did have some new thoughts on this, thanks to encountering Cynthia Bourgeault a few weeks ago.
So I began to look around the park to see if there was anything in nature that symbolized this new train of thought in my mind. Of course it was there! In the trees. In the plants. In the flowers. They all understand the importance of “releasing”. In fact, they practiced it regularly. Maple trees release their colorful leaves. Pecan trees release their nuts. Apple trees release their fruits. Other plants release their seeds. Flowering plants rather quickly release their blooms.
What they let go of is good stuff. Fruit is good. Nuts are good. Seeds are good. Flowers are good. They release the good to make way for the next. The new. The what-is-yet-to-come. Although what will come next is pretty much the same thing, each round brings maturity, growth, enhanced quality. And yes, they could release the bad as well, diseased fruit, damaged flowers, shriveled seeds.
So what Cynthia injected into my thought pattern recently is that releasing, self-emptying or “kenosis” is one of the essential aspects of who Jesus was. It is obvious in the bookend stories of his life: his birth and his death. The ancient hymn in Philippians goes something like…he did not consider equality with God as something to hold on to, rather he “released” it and took on human likeness. It goes on to say that he “emptied himself” and became obedient to death on the cross.
So, I’ve been chewing on this for a while…if this self-emptying was one of the essential motifs of the life of Jesus, what does it look like if I were to follow him in this way?
1. Cynthia’s take on “centering prayer” allows me to regularly practice this idea of releasing. As I sit in silence while various thoughts attact from my overly active brain, I simply practice releasing them. As another one comes on another subject, I release it as well. And then another, and another. What begins to happen is that for a few minutes, I release some very important and good thoughts, so that I can cultivate a place for something that is deeper. Something better. Something even more beautiful. This regular practice in self-emptying leads to my second way to follow Jesus in this way.
2. I think that periodically I will see the need to release something else in my life, not just thoughts, but habits, patterns, actions. These could be very good things, but by releasing them I create time, space, energy for better things. Hopefully you’ve already experienced something like this. On the other hand, I could be led to release something that is bad, hurtful, unhealthy, selfish, and even spiritually cancerous. And of course, this would be a very positive thing. Emptying yourself of this stuff could save your life, or your relationships, or your self-esteem. I would say at this point, be careful with phrases such as “hey, that’s the way I am” or “this is the way I do things“. It could be pointing to something that needs releasing but you don’t know it yet.
I think these two acts of “kenosis” (self-emptying); one being more inward focusing mainly on thoughts, and the other being outward, dealing with actions and habits, work well together and reinforce each other. Together they give you two feet to follow the way of Jesus. This is what I’m going to be working on for the next little while, and I’ll keep you posted on how it is going.