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Sept - Oct, 2004: Engaging Politics From The Third Way

Self-Emptying Love: The Life of the Trinity

Centering Prayer has been understood as being rooted and grounded in kenosis, the self-emptying love of Christ understood as the core gesture of his life and the source of his sacramental power. But in Christian mystical theology, the word kenosis is used in another context as well: to describe the internal life of the Trinity. It speaks of the self-emptying love with which the Father spills into (or gives himself fully into) the Son, the Son into the Spirit, the Spirit into the Father) This complete intercirculation in love is called perichoresis. It’s sort of like the buckets on a watermill; as they empty one into the other, the mill turns and the energy of love becomes manifest and accessible.
The same analogy I believe holds true for our life in God. What we experience in Centering Prayer as kenosis, or personal self-emptying, is always part and parcel of a greater perichoresis, one self-emptying spilling into another in the great watermill of love, through which God shows us His innermost nature and bestows this vital energy upon the world in a cascade of divine creativity.
“I am the vine; you are the branches; abide in me as I in you.” (John 15: 3-4). The most profoundly beautiful imagery in the New Testament is communal; it speaks of this great intercirculation of love. So often we think of Centering Prayer— or any form of meditation—as alone, withdrawn, or focused on one’s own personal development or special relationship with God, not shared with others (because we’re under the impression that the only way to share with others is to talk). But in point of fact, whenever we participate in that act of kenosis, it is always as part and parcel of perichoresis. That is the essential Mystery, the beauty that Jesus lived and died and through which he rose again. There is no gesture more ultimately communal than kenosis, for it is the ultimate act of self-transcendence. As we participate in this gesture, no matter how isolated it first may feel, how divided and cut off from others, the deep truth we will eventually come to know is that any act of kenosis reconnects us, inevitably and instantly to that great vine of love.
Thomas Merton learned this lesson through a long and difficult journey, perhaps the only way that this lesson is ever fully learned. When he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in December 1941, the one thing he knew for certain was that he wanted out of “the world” and straight into God. As he took one last backward look before the monastery gate clanked shut behind him, all he could see was a hopeless wasteland of sin, hypocrisy, noise, and illusion. Ahead lay a vast Himalayan silence and holiness. Or so he thought.

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The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest,
writer and retreat leader, presently resident in Canada where she serves
as Director of the Contemplative Society in Victoria, British Columbia,
and teaches regularly at the Vancouver School of Theology. She is the
author of four books--Love Is Stronger than Death, Mystical Hope, The
Wisdom Way of Knowing, and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening--and many
audiotapes and articles on the Christian Contemplative Tradition.

By Cynthia Bourgeault

Sept - Oct, 2004: Engaging Politics From The Third Way


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