The way is the path of life, and its purpose. More accurately, the content of the way is the specific path of life. The form of the way, its most fundamental aspect, is the apparently intrinsic or heritable possibility of positing or of being guided by a central idea. This apparently intrinsic form finds its expression in the tendency of each individual, generation after generation, to first ask and subsequently seek an answer to the question what is the meaning of life?
– Jordan Peterson
To follow Jesus means to walk a path of kenotic love, self mastery, inner transformation, and social change. To follow Jesus means to harken to a voice of alternative wisdom that the mainstream culture rejects and rails against. Kenotic love is this – pick up your Cross, bear the weight of integrity, die to self by loving others genuinely, and undermine the abusive Empire. In doing so, we may potentially find much of the meaning of our lives.
The concept of metanoia – Greek for turning or transformation – implies an ongoing process of becoming more fully human. Much of spirituality is an exercise in orientation – keeping ourselves on a path of self-mastery, self-correction, and self-development. Our personal engagement with the symbol of the Cross and the open table, the internalization of the teaching and parables and their meaning, and the willingness to orient our lives through the mythic narrative of the scriptures all fuel our transformation.
Imagination is the human mental capacity to create images and ideas. Today, imagination is often treated as a childish realm of fantasy and daydreams. Yet without our capacity for imagination, all works of fiction would be impossible. Further, so would most of physics and biology since we must rely on imagination to help us visualize and comprehend the workings of atoms, cells, and stars.
Imagination is also a significant arena for religion and spirituality. Like atoms and cells, we don’t see God or Jesus. Again, the language of religion and theology is the language of imagination – story, symbol, metaphor, and poetry.
Imagination is central to the religious consciousness. Religion does not necessarily “demand belief” (certainly not unquestioning belief) nor does it invariably “prescribe and proscribe”. At its best, it operates precisely through the exercise of the imagination. Certainly, Jesus’ teaching method was to awaken the imagination.
Chaos is not only the opposite of order, it is also the opposite of meaning. The Christian assertion of logos as divinity is an affirmation of the meaning of human life – and that meaning is found primarily in an ordered thriving, wholeness, and loving self donation of self to others to achieve the same.
A central aspect of Jesus’ teaching is that kenosis is vital to logos – that the meaning of our lives comes into sight best when we are not focused on self, but rather self emptying. Our wholeness is found by giving ourselves to those values and things that return us to ourselves improved and reconstituted.
Our awakening to these realities and our sense of self orientation is part of metanoia, the process of repentance, which is better understood as self directed transformation, rather than groveling before power. Metanoia is awareness, the condition for change, as well as the ability to sense our direction in life. It inspires us to turn toward the good, toward God, and toward those things worthy of our dignity. It motivates kenosis.
Kenosis is a Greek word that means emptying. It primarily refers to early Christian perception of Jesus’ loving, self-emptying to become human, an act of humility spoken of in Philippians 2:7, where Paul describes Jesus humbling himself, setting aside his divine privileges, becoming nothing for the sake of all.
Kenosis is a process of self-giving that does not end with us empty. Through our loving donation of self, we find ourself returned to self renewed, or recollected. In recollection I come to myself, I recover the center of my being, experiencing the depth and reality of my own subjectivity, for fully self-possessed, therefore, more free and capable of giving myself again in love. Each act of dying to self returns generates new life, recalling Jesus’ parable of the grain of wheat.
The assertion that we can give ourselves away to others, to values, to circumstances for the sake of love and goodness, implies a conviction of both human freedom and human autonomy and self-possession – we are our own to give at our choosing. And what we give ourselves to will determine the condition we find ourselves returned to after the gift.
The call of authentic value for an adequate response addresses itself to us in a sovereign, but non-intrusive, sober manner. It appeals to our spiritual center. In a certain sense, this call is intimate and personal, one in which I experience the uniqueness of myself.
– Dietrich von Hildebrand
We are fully capable of squandering the gift of self – offering our lives for things not worthy of our dignity and value. In such cases, we are recollected in a diminished state. Humans create their future character through action – what we do, what we give ourselves to – influences what we become and the type of person who emerges over time. Continued giving of self to selfish pursuits, forms a person who is increasingly selfish and establishes a self-centered character.
Conversely, if we give ourselves over to things of value that are worthy of our dignity, we should experience recollection, the regathering of self in a more full and unified manner. Continued giving of self to goodness and virtue results in those goods improving us as persons, refining our character, and making us more like Jesus.
Given that we do not possess the fullness of ourselves at any one time, being extended through time, our lives and formation of character are a dynamic process. Kenosis and recollection build on one another, our moral choices influence not only our future character, but our future moral choices as well. Therefore, our moral action is capable of building a positive feedback loop, with each choice for the good reinforcing our ability make such choices in the future. The same holds for immoral choices.
Therefore, at the heart of our transformation in Jesus is the Cross, an archetypal symbol of self-donation and self-emptying motivated by and for the sake of love. This process of inward formation points toward eudaimonia – the Greek term for wholeness or thriving. The process is systematic and inter-looping, never static.