“This Kenosis thing is hard to do,” a friend said recently to me. Kenosis, hmm? Not wanting to appear ignorant, I mumbled something and told myself that I’d have to look up the word sometime before I saw him again. My Greek was never that good. My research on Wikipedia reminded me that Kenosis is the self-emptying of Jesus’ own will so he could be a vessel and instrument for the will of God. It means to “Let it be”, or to die to self. Jesus and others perfected that way of life.
And yes it is hard to do. So maybe we can’t DO IT. It may be that all our spiritual exertions and exercises are not the point here. Maybe life itself offers a lot of opportunities to let it be. I know life gives plenty of opportunities to “die to self”, to let ourselves BE. Isn’t the ability to die to self a gift and a grace that comes from God who shows us how to “let it be”?
Here’s a Story:
I was on the lam from the Episcopal boy’s school I attended in Western Mass. With a book of essays by Thomas Merton, the Monk, I read a piece by him as I rode the bus from Lenox to Boston called the General Dance. I was 18. Merton wrote that “God did not create humans to punish them. God created humans because he wanted a partner to be a companion in the dance.”
Now this was revolutionary in 1961. But since that time we have been using the idea of the dance to talk about God and yet we don’t dance.
Five years later I was in seminary and the tweens in my Youth Group in Dorchester, MA, an inner city neighborhood of Boston, wanted nothing more than to dance. The African American and Caribbean youth would bring the newest Motown sounds on their 45 records, a record player and set it up in the parish hall and they would move.
But I had no idea how to move to the beats of the drums or the high falsetto’s of the singers. I sat and watched on the sidelines along with one of the other boys. When I was their age, I was embarrassed into dance class. I learned how to do a halting waltz, a tripping and toe stomping fox-trot, and a jerking cha-cha. No one ever told me how to dance to the faster pace of Rock and Roll and soul. I couldn’t even do a decent Twist.
After all White boys don’t dance, and neither do some Black boys. After a couple of weeks of sitting and watching, 12 year old Hope Neil took me out on the floor of the parish hall and taught me some steps. I was dancing. It was fantastic. I watched the young Dennis Ambrose as he moved like a wild child around the floor. The boy was one with the tumbling beats of drum and rhythms of bass and lead guitar and the vocalists. His arms, hands, head, torso, legs and feet and hips were all a whirr of motion. I had to dance like Dennis. In no time I was in the dance and I started to lose my self in the movement. I wasn’t self-conscious any more; there was nothing else between me and the music, me and my partner, me and the sweetness of God. Over the years the young ones have learned that at Weddings, I can keep up with some pretty tricky moves. I was learning Kenosis, dying to self. Letting it be and letting God be in the moment.
All I had to do was step onto the dance floor and a little child would lead me.
Abraham in the Hebrew Bible we read this morning is troubled by the ancient question for those who start on the path to God, “What is the most precious gift can I give to the One who gives so much to us, the food we eat, the sun, the air, the water, the loping Moose, the Monarch Butterfly? Where have you gone, Monarch Butterfly, I await you and you have not come? What can one do to repair the destruction to the creation we have wrought and the harm we have done to one another?
Basically it’s a question of “How can I buy God’s love, mercy, abundance?” What offering can I present unto the Lord? And what the story shows is the evolution in consciousness of what it is that God wants of us. God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our most beloved child! No!
God does not want to punish us for our sins! No!
God doesn’t want us to fret and struggle over how to pray and find a way to God’s heart! No!
God wants to dance with us,
God wants to play in the fields of the creation with us,
And God wants to be in a holy, merciful, joyful, compassionate, steadfast relationship with us.
God says, “May I have this dance?” I imagine God as a little more formal than “d’ya wanna dance?” Which is OK too? And we either can reach out and become enfolded into the arms of God or sit on the side trying to decide what to do. Whether I can risk that kind of relationship with One who seems to know me very well and one who asks nothing from us except our loving and open hearts. And we look on while others around us seem to have enjoyment without measure, a cup overflowing, flying around the room, letting it all BE.
Our dear friend said to a group of us last Friday that she has a place in her heart called the “Grand Ballroom”. In that room of the heart there are many entrances and from one side enters joy, from another grief, from another the friend, then another the enemy. There is love and fear, jealousy and forgiveness, betrayal and steadfastness, the secular and the sacred, all and more come into the grand ballroom dressed in beautiful gowns and elegant formal wear, dressed in beauty to visit and take each other in their arms and swirl and waltz and dance together in the heart and eye of Christ’s love and mercy, grace and forgiveness. Here Sarah and Hagar dance together as do Ishmael and Isaac. Here father is reconciled with the son, and mother with daughter. In the heart of Christ’s love there is no opposite which cannot be included in this great room. There is safety here, Kenosis, where we have died to self. And where we can let it all be.
Let it all be, while God holds us in arms of love.
Maybe the next step in this path of Kenosis, of dying to self, is to reach out our own arms to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to God and say, “Okay, I’m ready, I don’t know why or how, but it’s right to ask you. “Do you wanna dance?, Can I hold you in my arms as you weep over the world. Can I presume to comfort you at the hurt you must see?
And slow dance the night away.
Hope Neil from the youth group in Dorchester went to Princeton and became a Doctor. Dennis Ambrose died in the first on-rush of the AIDS epidemic and so in a way I dance between Hope and Grief, between Joy and sorrow as I remember my two youthful teachers in the dance. It is the divine movement between tears and joy, laughter and delight and sorrow. It is all held in the heart of love where all that lasts, lives and moves and has its being.