Searching for Our Human Face: Kenosis, Beggary, Hope

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

The kenosis of the Spirit is everywhere. The word of insight may occur on the lips of someone who believes him or herself in revolt against God. The moment of inspiration overcomes psychic deformation. The yes to the creative impulse, insofar as it humbly gives itself to the real, is both a yes to God and the enactment of genuine speech. Yet ideally, this is the mission of the Church. Part of that mission is the gathering of the world’s love and insight strewn across a night of death and despair. The Church’s mission is to extend love and hope to the hopeless. The urgency of the gospel is here. The God is life and the power of life. As much as enemies of the Church have distorted complex truth and used Crusades and Inquisitions as a hammer to bludgeon the people of God, it is still true that violence and killing betray the voice of Christ. So too, those who speak from a juridical insularity that refuses life as the ultimate truth for any being are already on the side of those offended by the kingdom of God.

I am glad for a photographer with the eye of Art Wolfe, for a musical storyteller like Kate Bush who sometimes crosses into popular awareness, for a filmmaker like Terrence Malick who provokes as he creates poetry in cinematic tongue. For the making welcome is made of a sheltering that includes, but is not limited to the need for warmth, and food, and clothing, the necessities of life. Welcoming is to make possible flourishing, to give a unique place, to make possible new words. In the welcoming, the essential spirituality of matter is revealed. Inert matter is dead matter. The living flesh dances and sings.

Freedom, for the human being, is the possibility, the capacity, the responsibility to be fulfilled, that is to say to reach and confront one’s destiny; it is the total aspiration for destiny . . . freedom is the experience of the truth of ourselves . . . freedom is the capacity for God . . . ‘God, lover of life,’ says the liturgy. (Luigi Guissani, The Religious Sense, p. 89)

But what are the boundaries of the Body of Christ? What are the limits of what may be hoped? How far does the touch of Christ go? I think one should meditate very keenly upon Sergius Bulgakov’s suggestion: “One should . . . postulate a universal human corporeality, which is the entire natural world” (Bride of the Lamb, p. 444).

Structurally man waits; structurally he is a beggar: structurally life is a promise” (Guissani, p. 54).

“Perhaps, however, the decisive thing has always lain in what is hidden, and it is necessary to dismantle one’s judgements and to reassemble everything anew from the standpoint of the hidden” (Adrienne von Speyr, quoted in Dare We Hope “That All Men be Saved”?, p. 161).

“Something great, long desired but wholly unexpected, the great Unexpected Joy, will come suddenly. It will embrace and shake the entire sphere of earthly being. It will roll the heavens up like a scroll, wash the earth, give new powers, renew everything, transubstantiate everything, and show the most simple everyday things in an all-blinding radiance of effulgent beauty, then, there will be no contradictions, and no rationality tormented by contradictions” (Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, p. 117).

“We love we know not what, and therefore everything allures us. As iron at a distance is drawn by the loadstone, there being some invisible communications between them, so is there in us a world of Love to somewhat, though we know not what in the world that should be. There are invisible ways of conveyance by which some great thing doth touch our souls, and by which we tend to it. Do you not feel yourself drawn by the expectation and desire of some Great Thing?” (Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditation 1.2).

(Go to “Animals in the Eschaton?”)

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4 Responses to Searching for Our Human Face: Kenosis, Beggary, Hope

  1. Leblanc says:

    what’s the relationship between apokatastasis, ecumenism and religious syncretism ?

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  2. brian says:

    It’s easy to throw out a question like that. Hard to answer briefly, especially as some time would have to be devoted to clarifying how one understands the terms. Since this forum is not conducive to real time dialogue, I shall answer with relative brevity.

    Apokatastasis as understood in Christian universalism has no connection to religious syncretism which is generally rooted in the assumption that all religions are superficially different, while more or less the same in substance. The aspiration towards transcendence is hardwired into human beings, but this does not mean that all human efforts are equally efficacious. Those who attempt to insinuate that a belief in the ultimate salvation of all is dependent upon such a presupposition are errant in their thinking and often dishonest in their rhetoric.

    As for ecumenism, that also has some range in its meaning. If one were to mean by that term a desire to find common ground and to attempt to see what is humane and true in differing religious and philosophical purchases upon reality, there is nothing objectionable in it. Those who are offended by the very idea unduly limit the capacity of the Holy Spirit to find people where they are. If one intends something equivalent to the religious syncretism adverted to above, again, it has zero connection to Christian universalism.

    One may still disagree with the latter, but identifying it with something it isn’t won’t further anyone’s understanding and refuting something it isn’t, of course, won’t be probative for the actual teaching on apokatastasis. It would only be an argument rooted in ignorance and persuasive to the equally ignorant.

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    • Grant says:

      It could also be said that God being God and not a god we should expect to find much that is true, of value and genuinely revealing God in other theistic (and even non-theistic) traditions and their practices, and the articulation of their thought, even though incomplete and at times misguided (they would no doubt say the same of Christians 🙂 ).

      There are even things that can allows Christians to see and think of things from a different perspective and learn to see things in a different way, particularly when such a truth is illuminated in the fuller reality of Christ (much as early Christian use of Hellenic philosophy was).

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      • brian says:

        I agree with you, Grant. It is difficult, sometimes, to surmise where a particular interlocutor is coming from. I guessed that Leblanc’s concern was whether apokatastasis was genuinely compatible with Christian teaching. I also speculated that such a question might be rooted in the usual interpretive nexus that presumes various doctrinal perspectives as self-evident, hence ruling out other views as invariably heterodox. I may be wrong in my conjectures. Regardless, truth is surprising and the TriUne God eternally loving and full of mystery. What I try to indicate in the meditation above is that “the world’s love and insight” is not foreign to Christ. If we are moved, our certitudes broken, vision increased by our encounter with others, from whatever place, culture, or time, it is because these riches too are destined to be woven into an ecclesial existence of joyful creativity.

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