Spirited Reflection: Kenosis and Watersheds


water ripples

Photo: Gordon Finney

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself… 

Philippians 2.5-7a, NRSV


“[He] emptied himself.” The Greek word ἐκένωσεν (ekénōsen) is used in Philippians 2:7, using the verb form κενόω (kenóō) “to empty”. Kenosis, kenotic are the words we use now.

Kenosis. My first introduction in 1989 to the word and idea of kenosis was after our family’s return from five years in West Malaysia as Partners in Mission with the Anglican Church of Canada.  The Reverend Terry Brown’s[1] words about kenosis helped me understand the spiritual transformation that had taken place in cross-cultural life and ministry, not only in Malaysia but in our return to inner city Toronto:

I am aware of one quality in particular that is necessary for cross-cultural ministry: the ability to undergo a certain self-emptying of one’s own cultural presuppositions, one’s own judgments, one’s own power.  In Biblical terms this is, of course, kenosis, the pattern of Christ’s own ministry (Philippians 2.1-11)…there is a self-emptying, a holding back of quick judgment, a critical stance towards one’s own cultural presuppositions, and willingness and ability to listen and learn and, ultimately, an ability to affirm people very different from oneself. In this process of self-emptying, one also receives in the new cultural setting: the self-emptying makes possible new patterns of friendship and ministry, new patterns of community, worship and theology…

Tears and Fire. About the same time, I was introduced to The Fountain & the Furnace: the Way of Tears and Fire[2] by Anglican solitary Martha Reeves, who tended a spring as she wrote a spiritual theology of tears and fire under the name Maggie Ross. I have been humbled by returning 30 years later to her spring of deep wisdom about kenosis, and my best course of action in this reflection is to let her speak.

To get from the attitude of dominance to the attitude of kenosis, or the mind of Christ, is an enormous task, and one that only tears can accomplish. Tears are always a sign that we are struggling with power of one sort or another: the loss of ours; the entering of God’s.[3]

Joy leaps from the heart of God, a fountain springing from the divine center, and ours. This flood, this vast unstemmable tide, arrives with all the flotsam and jetsam of our lives. This source-less source is never-ending Love and the upwelling and spilling over of tears.

God’s and ours. God’s first. God baptizes us with tears. God loves creation enough to weep over it, to become one of us, to shed tears as a man. As the divine breath still moves over the salted water of creation, so with tears Mercy bathes and mothers us into new life with her life. Into joy.[4]

It appears that tears may be one key to understanding the unity of the bio-psycho-spiritual person; and more:  a key to understanding the mutual kenosis of the relationship between God and creation; a key as crucial to understanding what a person is as created in the redeeming love of God as is the double helix in understanding the genetic code.[5]

Watershed Reconciliation. What if Earth’s water cycle and its earthbound watersheds, are the outward and visible signs of God-is-a-verb’s kenotic nature? What if we with all of creation have flowing within us abundant, essential, kenotic life, in our circulatory and lymphatic systems, our saliva, sweat and tears? What if the emptying we experience in reconciliation in Watershed Discipleship is being filled with the mind that was in Christ Jesus?

Gratitude can be our first kenotic response,
Again, in keeping with World Water Day (March 22):

Water, we love you; we thank you; we respect you.
Anishinaabe song written by Doreen Day

Adele Finney lives in the Wagg Creek/Mosquito Creek/Burrard Inlet/Pacific Watershed in the traditional territory of the Squamish Mother of the Wind People. She retired as Executive Director of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund and as a director on the KAIROS Board in 2016, and moved with her partner Gordon to North Vancouver, British Columbia.

[1] Now retired bishop of the Diocese of Malaita, Solomon Islands, homily preached at Trinity College, Toronto, January 20, 1989.
[2] Maggie Ross, The Fountain & the Furnace, Paulist Press, New York, 1987.
[3] Ross, p. 21.
[4] Ross, p. 21.
[5] Ross, p. 3.


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