Kenotic Faithfulness

by | Oct 15, 2018

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

— 1 Kings 19:11b-12

Good morning.

I awakened this morning to the sometimes thundering sounds of strong winds rushing through leaves and slamming branches against walls.  The power is out, so there is no technological hum in the house, though I can hear a slight humming in my left ear.  I am hoping this is due to my left sinus being congested, probably from whatever is getting kicked up by the winds.

At first I thought about the devastation that was left by hurricane Michael (for information on the recent storms and the Presbyterian response, go to  I looked out my window to see if there were any large trees near my bedroom that might be uprooted by the winds and fall on the house.  There are some large trees, but not near my bedroom.  So I got up, thankful that it is morning so I could get around without lights.  And as I was feeding the pets, I noticed the wind stopped for a bit, and there was silence.

In that moment, I felt peace.  Then I looked outside the front window and noticed quite a few cars driving by, more than usual.  So I started to fear whether there was something wrong with the roads that was forcing drivers to take a detour.  And then the wind kicked up again.

In the moment of quiet, I realized that the theme of kenosis has arisen several times this last week.  In last week’s column, I mentioned that Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, President and Executive Director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, commented that the church needs to be kenotic, as we empty ourselves in order to welcome the world.  I had to look up the word “kenotic” because I hadn’t heard the word “kenosis” in the form of an adjective.  But I am familiar with the concept of kenosis, or emptying, thanks to my theology professor at SFTS, Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, who is now the president of Columbia Theological Seminary.  I would respond to her teaching by saying that it’s the vulnerability of theologians to attempt to explain God, because God is so much bigger than what we can understand.  She suggested that my perspective reflected kenosis, where instead of trying to fill in all the questions about God, we empty ourselves and our own will in order to open up to the holy mystery of God.

In the past week, I have heard about young people becoming so addicted to technology that they withdraw from direct personal contact.  I myself worry about the 24/7 messaging we get through texting, email, social media, phone, radio and television news, and even the occasional in-person meeting.  With all the inputs flying around, it’s hard to listen well to each other, and even harder to discern what messages are of God, what are of the world, and what may even be harmful to ourselves and our souls.

And for you lectionary readers, the gospel passage for this last Sunday was Mark 10:17-31, a version of the story about Jesus and the rich young ruler.  It struck me that when Jesus advised him to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” Jesus did so out of love.  Jesus wanted the man’s full commitment and attention, and he could only get that if the man let go of his attachment to his wealth.  Later on, Jesus suggests that we also need to let go of our attachment to family, home, and occupation.  This is true emptying!  Of course, it’s no more than what Jesus did himself, as he emptied his life for our sake.

We have ancient practices that would help us to make some open space that God’s Spirit may fill us, most notably fasting and Sabbath.  How often do we consciously turn away from the noise we generate ourselves or invite into our lives, through chatter, busy work, media noise, and other tasks and hobbies that fill our calendars but may not fulfill our souls?  Even our work at the church—and dare I say it, even what is sometimes overzealous adherence to our rules and traditions—can distract us from the still, quiet voice of God.  But as we lessen our attachment to all that distracts us from God, even as we deal with the sometimes unpleasant voices that come up from inside when we finally let the external noise subside, may we keep listening for God, and eventually tune our ears and our hearts to the quiet music of the heavens.

Thanks be to God,