The Way of Emptying

painting by Bardia Soltani

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:2-11 NRSV)

Christians follow an empty man, and strive to become as empty as he was.

A child is at once both greedy and selfless: crying until fed, but in the next moment enraptured in ego-free awe while watching a butterfly pass by. Adults may be more subtle in their expressions of it, but the polarity remains. Humans are full of themselves. Each of us must contend with the propensity to presume that we are the center of the universe – that at the mention of my name, every knee should bow and every tongue should confess my glory.

The Psalmist captures the contradiction:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortalsthat you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet…

(Psalm 8: 3-8 NRSV)

Could it be that this dichotomy in human experience, and the mythical biblical poetry that describes it, are mirrors of the structure of the cosmos? The universe once was congealed into an infinitely dense center. Then it emptied itself in every direction instantaneously. Then its contents congealed into local centers called stars and galaxies. Then planets congealed around the stars. Then on the planet earth, life-forms congealed, yielding human beings with their congealing consciousness of self and cosmos.

The cosmos may well slow and stop its expansion and congeal again into the center, and empty again, and congeal again, and empty again, out of and into infinity. Each emptying creates microcosms that can be mistaken for the whole. Each set of planets circling a sun can seem like all there is. And each locus of consciousness can fall into the same illusion.

So when a human being named Jesus emptied himself, and served others so radically and selflessly that he was emptied of life itself on a cross, a model was set before humanity, showing us how to raise our consciousness. The gospel myth of his life and death models for us the emptying way. What makes us most human is not to glorify our own small-“s” selves. What makes us most human is not to advertise our awesomeness on social media. What makes us most human is out-of-ego expression of awe, wonder, and compassion. By getting ourselves out of the center, and becoming fully other-oriented, we are crowned with glory and honor. True for Jesus, and true for us.

As the staggering natural creativity surrounding us on earth and in heaven resulted from the emptying at cosmogenesis, so all the most beautiful human creations flow from emptying our self-centeredness into other-centeredness. In following Jesus, our ontology recapitulates our phylogeny.  In walking the way of emptying, we mirror in our souls and actions the origin of the universe, and consciously participate in its evolution.

JIM BURKLO

Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG   Weblog: MUSINGS   
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