mortal kenosis

“At the center of the Christ hymn is the notion of kenosis (self-emptying, self-restriction), an extraordinary moral initiative that Jesus took to reconcile with humanity.”

As someone whose brain runs deeper, wider, and faster than most people’s, I’ve been practicing self-restriction for as long as I can remember.

I’ve never thought of it as a moral initiative. It’s a necessary pre-condition for being connected with other people. When I swiftly string my ideas together as the baubles they are in my hands, I get quizzical, perplexed, lost, or angry looks. (Angry is when the other pins a ‘she’s showing off’ motive to my shirt.) I have to go back and rummage, to pull out the little beads at the bottom of my bag, and restring the strand with all the connector-beads nicely between the baubles. Then the other sees the flow of beauty, nods, smiles.

I’ve gotten better at this process. I’ve practiced a lot, after all.

It’s simpler, though, to not re-string in the first place. Throttling first avoids rework. Thus the self-restriction: pause, breathe, pull back, lay each piece down in a row. The ‘sense of the gathering’ stays in harmony, understanding pools among us, and all is well.

Except that in the throttling I lose things. Full-force, I jump from crag to crag, idea to idea, momentum carrying me beyond what careful steps could manage. It’s like when a poem-image arrives as I’m commuting—invariably it’s lost to me, since I can neither write it down in the moment nor grasp and hold its wisp of sense in my mind, unchanged. What have I lost? What might have we shared, if I flung myself forward without waiting to bring others along?

When I was at Rice, the best thing was never (and I do mean never) having to explain my jokes. What I thought might be the most obscure three-cornered connection of whimsy was swiftly plucked up and appreciated. Leaping became commonplace for all of us, launching ourselves at will. (I once wrote a seven-page paper about “smile” in a book… and this before text-search was an option!)

The Christ’s kenosis ultimately is not like this of mine. But I wonder if, while living, Jesus’ kenosis was. Always having to pull back a little, fit in a little, try to make himself understood, and then trying again. What must it have been like, to be throttled not only by the following around him, but the mortality he lived within?

Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
—Mark 8:14-21

Jesus, I will do my best to understand. And help explain!

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