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The Empty Chain




Christ, though in the image of God, didn’t deem equality with God something to be clung to—but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind: born into the human condition, found in the likeness of a human being. ~ Philippians 2:6-7


You may know that St. Francis of Assisi preached to the birds, but do you know what he preached? He cautioned them not to be vain about their beautiful plumage and songs and not to be ungrateful for all the ways that God provides for them. Who really thinks that birds need that advice? Hmm, perhaps the audience wasn’t the birds after all? We seem to be the only creatures that don’t understand reciprocity. We too often calculate what’s in it for us before offering our gifts, not so much birds, they just go about their normal living spreading beauty and joy along the way for nothing in return. Simply being is how rest of creation praises God, we seem to think we need to work at it.


This was also not an example of hypocritical preaching. Francis knew a thing or two about humility and gratitude. He understood that to follow Christ was to do as Christ did, that is, empty oneself. The second chapter of Philippians contains one of the first hymns of the church, it is known as the kenosis chapter after the Greek word for empty. The early church sang of Jesus emptying himself of equality with God so that he could be..checks notes...a slave! Jesus chose to be a vassal to the ruler of all and a vessel to be filled to overflowing with divine blessing available for all. The heart of the gospel message is that the Creator was willing to become subject to all the limitations of the creation.


Francis followed Christ’s example and kenosized himself, leaving all his privilege, wealth, (and apparently his clothing), behind to impulsively follow wherever the Wild Goose Spirit would lead. When he preached to the birds, it completed a chain of emptiness: from the one who emptied himself of divinity, to the one who was a channel of peace, to the creatures so free of bonds that they fly.


Prayer: O Source, forgive us for being full of ourselves, and thank you for patiently waiting for us to become empty enough to fill. Amen.

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