Self-Emptying

IMG_0408I offer a brief apology to Buddhists – forgive me if I have mischaracterized your religious practices.

We are enjoined by St. Paul to have within us the mind that was in Christ – specifically in His self-emptying love in going to the Cross (Philippians 2:5-11). It is the very heart of humility. Of course there are difficulties when we seek to practice such a thing – difficulties for which I have already apologized.

Christians are not Buddhists.

We cannot undertake an effort of self-emptying in a vacuum. We cannot be humble merely in reference to ourself. The Christian goal is the “loss of self” in a certain context, but never in a manner in which there is nothing to be found where a self should be.

The point of St. Paul’s admonition, as well as the point of Christ’s own self-emptying, is not negative, nor may it be achieved through negative efforts. Self-emptying is an act of love – an enlargement of the heart – and extension of our person towards the person of others.

Thus self-emptying is never a matter of looking inwards – but always a matter of extension beyond ourselves.

The Christian vision of love always includes love of the other. There can be no “love” that exists apart from the personal. Even in our understanding of the Trinity – we may say, as does St. John – that “God is love,” but not in any sense of a self-existing non-referential love. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. The Father loves the Spirit and the Spirit loves the Father. The Son loves the Spirit and the Spirit loves the Son.

Thus to say, “God loves,” is something of an incomplete sentence. Christian theology would argue that only in the Trinitarian revelation does the statement “God is love” make sense.

By the same token, humility is not a negative act, a “negation” of the self. Rather it is an opening of the self that allows room for the life of the other. God, who is ‘meek and lowly in heart,’ is just so because His life is open to creation and to His human creatures as it is open, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Humility and self-emptying are not the loss of self but the gaining of a true self (where self is understood to be synonymous with “life”). I often marvel at discussions of over-population. Ignoring the Malthusian nightmares of various Cassandras, I find that we are only crowded because there is not enough room for “false selves.” The world is hardly big enough for a single false self. However, love always has room. It is how God can be everywhere present and filling all things and yet have room for us.

Is there any room at the inn?

Comments

  1. says

    I didn’t quite understand why you offered apologies to Buddhists for mischaracterized their religious practices, if it was in advance in case you stepped on their toes, or in retrospect for something you’ve posted before. There is much in Buddhism that relates to the Orthodox Christian practice as far as inner watchfulness is concerned. It’s only that I have never been able to justify either our or their inner watchfulness, unless there is a personal God, with whom we have to do, as our ultimate purpose in life.

    Your last paragraph (not the question at the end, though it was well asked) grabbed my attention intensely.

    “I find that we are only crowded because there is not enough room for “false selves.” The world is hardly big enough for a single false self. However, love always has room.”

    These statements are pivotal and fundamental to reaching the right frame of mind in which to approach both the inner and the outer worlds. These are statements with which Buddhists, Christians and, indeed, all other people of faith and/or higher purpose should agree. Would that the world rulers and planners see the world this way, and cease troubling us with their plans and programs.

    Thank you, Fr Stephen, for this excellent post! Axios!

  2. says

    Romanos

    My sense was that Buddhism might indeed seek “loss of self” without reference to anything, whereas Christianity does so to find to true self in Christ. Thus the apology.