Affirmation: I am a dynamic expression of God on the quest to know and reveal more of my true self.

Feeling Stuffed With Spiritual Teachings

Growing up in Unity, I was blessed with a foundation of positive thinking and self-empowerment consciousness. Early on, I took to heart the teaching that I am a child of God, claiming my divine identity as the Truth of my being.

My world has been completely transformed by my ongoing quest to grow so that I can live more authentically from my true, or Christ self, through spiritual study and practice.

I used to think of growth as a process of adding new teachings and systems to my spiritual knowledge then demonstrating proficiency in them, but something new has emerged. Adding more spiritual skills has started to feel like adding more stuffing to a pillow. At some point, more isn’t better—it’s just more. Continue to stuff the pillow, and the seams eventually stretch and tear the fabric itself.

My pillow of spiritual knowledge was pretty stuffed. Adding more did not seem to create the same transformational experience it once did.

Unity practitioners are well aware of the power of letting go and our teachings about denials and renunciation. Charles Fillmore, Unity cofounder, described denials as the mental process of erasing false beliefs and making room for the establishment of Truth.

Similarly, he described renunciation as letting go of old thoughts so that new thoughts might find a place in consciousness. Both are important building blocks to spiritual transformation.

Then I started to notice a new type of letting go emerging. It was more of an undoing that didn’t involve some new teaching to replace it.

Understanding Kenosis: To Empty Oneself

I first learned the term kenosis from author Cynthia Bourgeault. The word comes from the Greek verb kenosein and means to empty oneself. Kenosis is not the same as denials or even renunciation.

In both denials and renunciation, there is a subtle, yet distinct, pushing away from something toward something else.

Kenosis is a self-emptying through willingness to let things come and go without grabbing on.

Jesus described chaff burning away in a divine fire. And while we’ve all probably experienced a form of this, what makes kenosis distinct is that the fire takes what we have labeled positive as well as negative. Therefore, spiritual identities that have felt integral to the expression of our higher selves start to be burned away too.

I experienced this recently as I began to feel divine discontent in serving as minister of the church where I grew up. Meditator, minister, spiritual guide, mystic, teacher, spiritual leader—one by one all these spiritual identities lost their structure as expressions of my true self.

What is most remarkable is that I let them.

At first it was painful, like a loss of my spiritual identity. Then I started to experience a new type of freedom. There was a sense of the choiceless choice, where everything I came to count on as my sense of spiritual self was less real.

The Experience of Emptiness

At that point, it felt like this dissolution was an essential part of revealing a new expression of my true self.

What at first felt like a void has turned into a full emptiness—a true self that is reminiscent of what Thomas Merton described this way:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely ... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.


About the Author

Rev. Carolyne Mathlin is chair of the Unity Board of Directors and an ordained Unity minister and SQ21 coach. She has served as senior minister of Unity of Tustin (California), president of the Southwest Regional Board, as a member of the Unity Church of Alhambra Foundation Board and the Youth Education Advisory Team. Rev. Carolyne received her bachelor of science in business administration from Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts, in 2002. Her primary spiritual practice is Centering Prayer—weaving the Unity tradition of the Silence in with other meditation practices.


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