Kenosis is a Christian concept positing a person must become empty in order to receive the message of GOD. This is similar on the surface to the Buddhist concept of Sunyata. However in Buddhism the goal is to attain enlightenment whereas in Christianity the goal is to become more receptive to GODS holy word. It is therefore not a self-directed activity, but rather an activity that we begin ourselves with the goal of utterly emptying ourselves so that all that is left is what GOD places within the heart.
John the Baptist displayed a type of Kenosis when he said “He must become greater; I must become less”.
J.R.R. Tolkein captured the idea of Kenosis with the character of Galadriel, the Elf Queen who is tested by the One Rings temptation in the forests of Lorien.
“And now at last it comes. You will give me the ring freely! In place of a Dark Lord you will set up a queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the morning” (here she echoes Lucifer) “Fair as the sea and the sun and the snow upon the mountain. Dreadful as the storm and the lightening! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”…
Galadriel displays a hubris for which mankind is especially susceptible, and the Ring of Power plays on this weakness. Galadriel is voicing the same sentiment of many who seek not only to be free from GOD but to supplant GOD through an act of ego run amuck. When we start down this path we begin to see ourselves as an end… Our goals matter most, our belief reign supreme, our will is overpowering, our intellect is King, and err we fall. How often have we uttered the phrase “I know best”, even on matter we know little or nothing about. How many armchair quarterbacks, or politicians, or doctors or lawyers or theologians have we become? This is how Galadriel sees herself, if only for a moment of temptation.
“She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illuminated her alone and left all else dark”. Such a perfect world for us at our most arrogant, light emanating from use, illuminating only us. “She stood before Frodo, seeming now tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken; A slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad”.
Here we shift from Galadriels vision of herself in fullness of hubris, to the way Frodo sees her under the shadow of that very same hubris. We all tend to see men and women in power as something greater than ourselves; This is equally true of the tyrant and the pacifist leader. in reality we see someone like Martin Luther King with the same eyes as Joseph Stalin. We see them clothed in the fullness of their power, a power that manifests itself through words. The only difference is the end to which those words are directed. Galadriel closes by saying in what feels like a pained whisper.
“I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.
It was the test for Galadriel, the same test we all face at various times during our lives. There is no shame in the awareness that you pass the test because it is through this passage that we become better people, not in our selves, but in our emptiness and the realization that power does not come from us, but from something far greater. Galadriel understood this. But she also understood that becoming a better person means surrendering the hubris that came close to deceiving and destroying her. In order for Galadriel to accept the need for her own unity with the divine, which is what is referenced in saying she will go to the West, she had to empty herself, to diminish. This was Galadriel’s moment of Kenosis.