Not many Carols have crossed my path over my lifetime. She is empty of religion, no church background whatsoever, yet hungry, relishing each morsel of bread now extended.
Here’s the story. I met my new neighbor, Carol some months ago while walking my dog, Katie. I discovered that she moved to Asheville to work at Mission Hospital as a nurse in the trauma unit. But soon after her move, she broke her leg which, in turn, precipitated early retirement. Without family close by and no mobility, she was left to herself throughout a long winter recovery.
Alone and lonely she accepted the invitation by another neighbor to attend their church. As she was telling the story about attending, her eyes lit up with excitement. She spoke with delight about what she had found at that church — the Jesus “take” on God’s love within a community that fully accepted her beginner’s questions.
I thought to myself — here is a person full of professional competence in her medical field, plus parenting three children into adulthood, yet speaking of a “hole” being filled with a joy she didn’t know she was missing. I was surprised over her surprise as she stood before me with such childlike wonder over a church and its message.
I added, “I know that church well and the pastor, Guy Sayles, is a close friend. Have you come to know him?” “Oh, no,” she quickly responded. “Why, I wouldn’t know what to say. Besides he might ask me a question. You see, I know nothing, absolutely nothing about God or Jesus or the bible. Nothing! I couldn’t approach him. I wouldn’t know what to say?” “Well, how about me going with you?” I offered. “Oh, yes, yes,” she said. “Would you do that?”
So I arranged the appointment. A few days ago Carol and I had our time with Guy.
I wanted you to meet Carol. For those of us too full of religion, she can be our teacher. Carol is eager. Open. Questioning. Curious. Not knowing. Awed over the Mystery of faith.
For most of my ministry I have come alongside those sorting out their faith, deciding what to keep from their religious upbringing, what to cast aside and what to incorporate in new life-giving ways. That’s been my inner work as well. I am full of knowledge and, with each new book, I attempt to “shoe-horn” some more insight. And I am richer for it as in rich food.
But I also want to be more like Carol — hungry, curious, not-knowing, amazed, with a large hole to be filled. “Kenosis” is the fancy Greek work for “self-emptying,” used in Paul’s Philippian poem about Jesus emptying himself of status, opening himself up to life as it came to him, surrendering himself, even in death, to the surprising, rising movement of Spirit.
In a manner, I am too full. I know it. I live among people very full of themselves, mostly full of exciting ideas, creative insights, and seasoned convictions. But Carol — in her excitement about good news — paradoxically has become for me some good news. She reminds me of the goodness in un-fulfillment. She points me to kenosis, self-emptying. Her hunger calls out and blesses my hunger.
She laughed with denial when I told her that her emptiness was a gift to us. It was another amazement to her. Radical amazement all around.