Towards the end of last week the the daily gospel reading was from the end of John Chapter 3. John provides us, or at least me, with a huge challenge: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease,’ (John 3 ,30). Decreasing, accepting and instigating a lessening of self is, counter cultural for a society driven by statistics, even where the statistics used have no obvious relation to happiness and meaning. Is the person with the most Facebook ‘friends’ or the most followers on Twitter really living the most meaningful life? The diminishing of self is also counter cultural for a society infested with neurosis and anxiety but, which has become attuned to masking its fears.
Decreasing is all about the giving away of self, in love, so the other may grow. It is about shedding the masks we put up and the fictions we create to generate self-esteem. It is about getting rid of the negatives which bind us, and if we are not careful can come to characterize us. When we decrease in stature we learn to play the orchestras most difficult instrument, second fiddle. We allow Christ and, others to take centre stage, to receive our full attention, we invest in others a sense of hope. The Greek word for this form of emptying is Kenosis, and it turns out that Kenosis is actually rather good for us. Kenosis can provide us with a true picture of ourselves; the me that’s left after all the pretenses and anxieties have been stripped away, the only form of me that’s of any heavenly use. It is this form of self that Benedict wishes to see arise in verse 8 of the Prologue, for when we are Kenotic both we and others can ‘arise.’ John the Baptist knew that his theological task was to diminish himself and, in so doing opened the way for humanities most significant gift: Jesus Christ.
Mitch Albom in Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith provides a highly enjoyable (and inter-faith) account of Kenosis in action. These are two wonderful, and short, theological novels which I recommend in exploring the benefits of the development of the Kenotic self.
What steps do I need to take to decrease so He, and others, may increase?