Self-Emptying

Self-Emptying

Make my joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others. Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. —Philippians 2:3-8, Jerusalem Bible

Jesus consistently asks people to “come after me” or to “follow me.” Eventually, he leads us to the cross. Victory is not the avoidance of suffering or death, but precisely death transformed. This is what God does with people who say “yes” to the process.

In the passage above, Paul uses the Greek word kenosis to describe Jesus’ act of self-emptying and surrender. Contemplative prayer is a practice of self-emptying. At its most basic, contemplation is letting go—of our habitual thoughts, preferences, judgments, and feelings. Though life itself is often our most powerful teacher through great love and suffering, contemplation is a daily, small death to false self and ego. It makes space for True Self to reappear, to rise from the ashes of our partial and protected self.

Contemplation teaches us to live in an undefended way. Little by little we can let go of the need to prove ourselves right or superior. Contemplation retrains our brains to understand the bias from the bottom, to know with true humility and love.

If you do not already have a regular contemplative or meditative practice, I encourage you to begin with a few minutes of silence every day, emptying your mind of patterned—mostly negative—thoughts to simply be present to Presence.