Friday, March 29, 2013

The Night and Day of Kenosis

a fragment of a poem (The Garden of Gethsemane)  by Boris Pasternak:


At the end was someone's plot of land.
Leaving his disciples outside the wall
He said: "My heart is ready to break
with grief; wait here, keep watch"

He renounced without a struggle
Omnipotence and miracle-working
as though they were borrowed things;
And He became like mortals, like us.

It has been a struggle, but religion, liberal religion at least, has renounced omnipotence and miracle-working.  No longer do we claim to know the will of God; no longer do we claim to have his Word as close as the Help key: just click on it and know.  And Miracles happen all the time, but we no longer claim to know how to work them.  We do the work pressed upon us by the creation as it: the tilling and telling, the filing and filling, culling and the cutting, and once in a while, we witness a moment beyond; a miracle, we call it.  But we cannot call it down.

You have had nights when you know that someday, you are going to die.  And you dread it.  And the sleeping shapes around you cannot divert you.  At that point you know that you do not really know what happens next.  But you know no divine cavalry will ride in to save you from inevitability.

If Religion cannot credibly offer omnipotence and miracle-working, what can it do? I don't know, but we will try to be awake for you, and each other, and for all.

Notes: this text is a translation by Nina Kossmann, taken from "The Gospels in our Image", edited by David Curzon.  An indispensable book.
The full text of the poem, but translated by Christopher Barnes.

Kenosis is self-emptying.  A theological concept essential to answering the question:  If Jesus was divine, how could it be that he suffered and died?  If Jesus was able to perform the miracles that He did, why could He not save Himself from a few Roman soldiers.

Kenosis is the answer.  On the night He was betrayed, He emptied Himself of divinity (omnipotence and miracle-working) and fully embraced his mortality, becoming like us.  According to the story, omnipotence and miracle-working were always His.  They are not for us.

The Church has always claimed them, omnipotence and miracle-working, but they are like borrowed things.

Liberal Christianity is the reinterpretation of the Christian story in the full knowledge that human beings can only pretend to know all and work miracles.

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