Before God, we are exactly as nothing – dust. But we are a strange dust, a most extraordinary dust. We are a dust that, when it has recognized that it is a dust, and has cried out to the Lord, “I am a poor man. I have nothing”, then suddenly I become filled with glory. Then suddenly my poverty attracts God, like a magnet attracts iron ore. I begin to be filled with his glory. For he said he has come for sinners. He has come for the sick.
Because of this poverty, because he loves this poor creature that is a creature of his own hands and of his mind, his Son like lightning descends or like a giant walks across the mountains to come to us, and fill us with himself. Now, empty, a chalice with nothing in it for a moment, we, the Christian, become power and glory of God. Now we can go to the slums. Now we can go wherever God wishes us to go. We just are a chalice to him. Now he has feet to walk with. Now he has a mouth through which he will speak, because he said “Be not afraid! Open your mouth and I shall speak.”
Now he can do what he wants, because the creature has realized who she is, who they are, and who He is. That is poverty. In order to reach that poverty, that realization, we must undergo what the Greeks called a “kenosis”. “Kenosis” is an emptying.
So I must stand before God, because even as I say these words, even as I say that I am poor, I already have to be watchful –lest I really believe that I have reached the bottom of my pocket. I must always be watchful, lest I squeeze God out, and allow myself to grow and Him to recede, and have a crippling effect on my Creator – because, you see, it’s a fearful thing, the pride of man. “Kenosis”.
It is said in the Scriptures, about Christmas, that God emptied himself and took the habit of a slave, our flesh, became man. That was the ultimate in “kenosis”. He emptied himself, from this state to that. He’s an artist! Incredible – that only faith can bridge. The same must happen to us. He emptied himself for us. We must empty ourselves for him. But before we can do that, we have to recognize that our religion is not a set of dogmas only, that it is not a set of rubrics only, that it doesn’t only express itself in various sacraments and sacrifices (which it does). But first and foremost, it’s a tremendous love affair between God and man. God loved us first.
Catherine Doherty, Unpublished Talk, 1965
Reflection – This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. This is the deep purpose of ‘poverty’ in our Christian tradition, you know. We can talk about being poor or practicing poverty (if we talk about it at all, which is not much these days) from various angles. We can talk about it as a social justice matter – we should not be filthy rich while others starve.
Or we can talk about it as an evangelical matter – our preaching of the Gospel is compromised if we are living too luxuriously. Or we can talk about it as simple asceticism, part of the whole basic Christian task of self-mastery and detachment.
Although—let’s be honest—most of the time, poverty and its spirit are not talked about much at all, except in the most worldly of terms, as a matter of a bad economy and a lousy situation that needs to be escaped from. ‘Blessed are the poor’ is one of the most neglected Gospels of this time and perhaps all time.
The heart of the matter is that our religion is first and foremost ‘a love affair between God and man.’ That is the radical root of whatever practice of poverty we embrace, whatever physical austerity we practice, whatever spiritual emptying we undertake. It is all for the sake of letting God have full access to our hearts so that our whole being can be penetrated by the luminous action of the Holy Spirit.
“Now he can do what he wants, because the creature has realized who she is, who they are, and who He is. That is poverty.” Catherine’s words are simple, deep, and beautiful, and perhaps I need to add little commentary to them.
It’s all about the love of God and man and the totality that love affair demands. This is why so few do it, or are even too interested in talking about it – it demands everything and throws us into a world where there is simply no end to what God might ask of us. And of course we shy away from that. But there is no way around it, really – this is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and the question of poverty of body and spirit lies at the very heart of that following and that love.