Kenosis and Self-Love
. . . On undoing our devotion to crucifixion
You cannot love others if you do not love yourself. If you secretly hate yourself, you will secretly hate others, for hatred is a way of assigning blame. I am this way because of you, and I hate you for it. Hatred looks outward for victims, and in doing so, wastes its host. We are not alive when we hate others.
To love oneself is hard. To forgive ourselves, to remember our own innocence, to trust in the forgiveness of our Creator is hard. To let go of the need to be better, smarter, wiser, healthier, nicer, richer or poorer than our brothers and sisters is hard. We never truly perceive the value of self love because it undoes all the differences by which our lives appear to be meaningful and real.
Self-love is letting go of everything, including a self to love. Imagine letting go of all the ideas, concepts, images, practices and patterns which apparently comprise you and then living with what is left. What is left? You have to let that go, too!
Kenosis is self-emptying; it's how Saint Paul understood the crucifixion: in order to become Christ, Jesus let go of every comfort and consolation - those that were physical and those that were existential. "My God, my God - why have you forsaken me?" He had to let go of even the idea of being Christ. Think of him dying scared and alone, believing that his mission of Love - of Justice and Mercy - had failed. "Do not imagine I have consolations," wrote Thérèse of Lisieux near the end of her own Christ-like life, when the logical climax of her devotion to suffering reached its awful zenith.
Once upon a time the crucifixion of Jesus was a historical event but now it is a symbolic narrative urging us to cling to nothing in order to throw ourselves entirely onto the mercy and justice of our Creator and discover - in that terrifying emptiness, that grim nihilism - that we are not separate from Love.
Then, beside myself with joy, I cried out: "O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love!
Thérèse of Lisieux
Remember that in the story, crucifixion is not the end. Kenosis is not the end. It looks that way and feels that way but "looks" and "feels" are unreliable. What do we know? Do we know the meaning of "your Father in Heaven loves you?" If we don't, then we cannot love. If we do, then self and other no longer exist as objects to be loved or not loved. All there is is love.
Each one you see in light brings your light closer to your awareness. Love always leads to love. The sick, who ask for love, are grateful for it, and in their joy they shine with holy thanks. And this they offer you who gave them joy (T-13.VI.10:3-6).
That passage only makes sense when we understand that we are the one who is sick.
It's a trick problem, you see. We do know that our Father in Heaven loves us, and therefore we do love our self, and therefore do have love to give our brothers and sisters. But we overlook this. We deny it. We forget it and then forget we forgot it. We undertake spiritual journeys that last lifetimes and reach the far ends of the cosmos only to learn that the light we sought was in us all along.
There is a light that this world cannot give. Yet you can give it, as it was given you. And as you give it, it shines forth to call you from the world and follow it (T-13.VI.11:1-3).
Forgiveness is letting go of everything the world values - status, stories, selves and others. It is letting go of our right to hold grudges, to define loss, to defend ourselves and to be in charge. We stop trying to be the author of life - or even an editor of life - and suddenly the story of life unfolds before us perfectly. There is nothing to do! Nothing happened and nothing is happening. We don't have to fix anything or anyone, least of all our own self. Love is not about improvement; it's about how we give attention.
And yes, life goes on. Elephants are murdered, dogs are tortured, kids go hungry and damaged men inflict damage on others in the name of God. Kenosis does not end the appearance of external suffering; it allows us to relate to it differently. It allows us to know what to do about it in a local sense. You can't solve the problem of world hunger, but you can grow some of your own food, support local farmers and cooperatives, say grace before and after eating, plant flowers for bees, scatter acorns in the forest.
"Love always leads to love" (T-13.VI.10:4). We like the way it sounds - why not see what happens when we trust it as a law? Become nonviolent. Become love. Here and now. Why not?
The way to remember Love is through forgiveness. Forgiveness is the action of love; when we forgive, we remember love. Forgiveness is perception without judgment. Before you call your brother good or bad, beautiful or ugly, helpful or unhelpful, they simply are. Creation is. Can you see your brother as God sees him?
If we are real with each other, the answer to that question is: no. I cannot. So the real question, the more helpful question is: why not? It is that question which brings us into contact with the blocks of love inside us, inaugurating the real work of A Course in Miracles. In time, as more and more blocks are undone because they are finally seen as blocks to love, we realize that love - like Creation - is.
When we realize that we are not alien to love -- because we are not alien unto each other (because how can any one or any thing be apart from Creation) - then we become grateful. When we are grateful, we make ourselves a site where love is welcome and has a home. And where love is welcome, love gives welcome. "Love always leads to love" (T-13.VI.10:4).
Thus, through kenosis, we forget ourselves, and as we forget ourselves, we become joyful. When we recognize our brothers and sisters as our own self, then we naturally forgive them, and as we forgive them, we forgive our self. In this way, the other reflects our innocence, as we reflect theirs. Self-love and love of others are not separate; they're more like partners in a divine and gentle dance.
What then shall we do with the suffering of Jesus (he did die nailed to a cross, after all) and Thérèse of Lisieux (whose body literally rotted for months)? Must we suffer as well?
Here is the answer we don't often see in ACIM circles: Yes, we must suffer. But. But. If we are ready, then our suffering is behind us. Please hear this: you have already paid the price of sin. You have been hurt, you have hurt others, you have lost friendships and loves, you have been abandoned and left for dead, you have been lonely beyond measure and if you are ready, then all of that is behind you now.
You are not asked to be crucified, which was part of my own teaching contribution. You are merely asked to follow my example in the face of my less extreme temptations to misperceive, and not to accept them as false justifications for anger (T-6.I.6:6-7).
Kenosis does involve the experience of suffering, and it does involve facing down the interior dread from which such suffering appears to arise. But on the other side of those shadowed valleys are the Gates of Heaven, and that is where we stand, you and I. Together, we are asked to undo the last trivial differences that appear to separate us, knowing that we have already undone far greater and more violent differences. What's scary now is not how hard it is, but how easy - how little is left.
Shall we, you and I, take one more tiny step together?