Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kenosis, Khora, and the Prejudice of Love

I’ve thought a lot about how I could articulate my “theology,” which may not be the best word because by that word I mean my way of life. Or rather: what I want it to be. Maybe I could begin to express it with these words: a particular incarnation of kenosis, khora, and the prejudice of love. Narrative is the best way to communicate such thoughts, something I am feebly hinting toward in stories like “A Mighty Stream,” “The Thousand Worlds,” and “The Almond Tree.” I think truth happens in poetry and parables, not in abstracted theological musings, as necessary as they may be. The thoughts to follow come out of my unfinished story and my encounter with other stories. Because of this, these words must be seen as an extremely shallow explication, because these words can and must be expanded upon, given more depth to. After the wheat has been separated from the chaff, which is a never-ending process, theology must be rooted in this: love God, love others. These are inseparably one, and, for me, the same. Jesus said these simple, complex, and life-giving/threatening words summed up his entire religious tradition and sacred scriptures. “How do I love when I love my God?” asks John Caputo, practically tweaking Augustine, “for love is a how, not a what. And so is God . . . Love is not a meaning to define, but something to do, something to make . . . ‘God’- that is not only a name but an injunction, an invitation, a solicitation, to commend, to let all things be commended, to God.”

I have been tempted to erase everything that follows because, sometimes, such musings actually do feel unnecessary because who I am is not what I say I believe. Who I am is what I do. Theology that isn’t love and doesn’t lead to love is worthless, and should be thrown into the fire. Because everything else is straw.

Incarnation is the beginning because theory must reside within praxis, from the root of experience, and be livable. Theology, which is theory and praxis, must be birthed from experience, thought, and interaction with others. To incarnate something is to put it into flesh, into life and action. This incarnation is particular because the active enfleshing and therefore enacting of this way of life must make sense within a specific context and community. Particularity, which does not imply exclusivity but rather the opposite, means that incarnation is subject to the place in which the event of incarnation occurs. And particularity implicitly recognizes that incarnation is extraordinarily and irreducibly diverse and created through dialogue.

The Greek word kenosis, in Christian theology, means “self-emptying,” stemming from Paul’s recitation of a hymn in Ephesians 2:5-11. Kenosis is arguably the most unique aspect of Christianity: the Father self-emptied into the Son, who emptied himself for his own small corner of the world (a particularity which achieves universality), and of whom his followers are to be imitators. In this way, identity is not based on the self but is found by losing yourself, by emptying yourself for others. The way of kenosis is the way of death, of letting go, expressed in such aphorisms as “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all”; “Whoever wishes to save his life must first lose it”; and “Take up your cross and follow.” Kenosis is deeply sacrificial, allowing oneself to be deconstructed in order to become khora.

The Greek word khora is the open space for infinite possibility. Khora is the sacred place of incarnation; Mary has been called khora ton arkoretou which means “the container of the uncontainable.” In this sense the most religious word, as Caputo says, is “Yes,” which assents to the inviting, whispering call, a power without force, and opens to become like a womb. Khora is not being or nonbeing, but is an open space for the event/spirit of God to break through the confining name/concept of God. Khora is where, as Meister Eckhart prayed, God can be rid of God. Kenosis leads to khora, which is where death can lead to the possibility of rebirth into a ‘new’ way of seeing the world.

And this ‘new’ defining hermeneutic is the prejudice of love for the other. This rebirth gives new eyes to see the world, as Bonhoeffer said, “from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and reviled, in short from the perspective of the suffering.” This way is prejudiced by a love for the poor and poor in spirit and unequivocally calls for justice, which is the body and flesh of the soul and spirit of love. The prejudice of love is the self-emptying of oneself into the world for the least of these.

This conversion never stops. This is a constant resurrecting journey. And a particular incarnation of kenosis, khora, and the prejudice of love inevitably leads to a cross.

A Prayer: May we be emptied of ourselves to become open spaces for the im/possible event of You that breaks through the confining concept of God, and breathes life. May we respond to the weak whispering call of justice, mercy, and commitment. And may we be resurrected by and to a way of life that is prejudiced by a love for the poor and the poor in spirit. Amen, Let it be . . .


  1. Michael (aka your brother)March 6, 2010 at 5:13 PM

    "The forest is mostly dark, its ways
    to be made anew day after day, the dark
    richer than the light and more blessed,
    provided we stay brave
    enough to keep on going in." - Wendell Berry

    "Not until all is given
    Comes the thought of heaven." - Wendell Berry

    I hope you can see too how Wendell speaks to us here. I thought those two quotes were appropriate. With regards to the second one, with and only with kenesis, can heaven even be imagined.

    See you soon.

  2. truth in poetry and parables. this and your intro reminds me of flannary o'connor's words in this article: "Your beliefs will be the light by which you see but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing."