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Theosis, Kenosis & Bromhidrosis

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Claim me for Thy service, claim All I have and all I am.

Take my soul and body’s powers, Take my memory, mind, and will, / All my goods, and all my hours, All I know, and all I feel, / All I think, and speak, and do; / Take my heart–but make it new.

Charles Wesley, Hymns on the Lord’s Supper.

Theosis is an Eastern Orthodox understanding of salvation that is incredibly influential on John & Charles Wesley’s theology.  It’s best articulated by an early Church Father, St. Athanasius, who wrote, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”  It might sound a little weird at first, but think about it…the entirely holy, eternal God entered our finite and sinful existence so that we sinful and finite people could become holy and live eternally with God.  For Wesleyans, this is a lifelong process of sanctification, or being made more and more like Christ as we live lives that reflect the mind and attitude of Christ.

Kenosis is the Greek word for “emptied,” found in Philippians 2:5-11.  For our lives to reflect the mind and attitude of Christ, we must imitate the one who crafted the universe  and left behind his reign in Heaven to enter into our sinful existence and love the least of these.  We must never see ourselves as above others, but humble ourselves to serve the very people whom Christ died to save.  There’s a lot of theological debate about what “kenosis” really implies about the nature of the God-Man (that’s Jesus), but for the Wesley’s all that matters is the practicality of it all.  Jesus emptied himself and chose the life of a human who would die on a cross…and that means that to become like God is to empty ourselves and serve, no matter how smelly, no matter how ungrateful the recipients are, even if your actions never lead to their redemption or happy ending.

Bromhidrosis is the closest I could come to ‘stinky feet,’ but it really just means smelly sweat, which is the cause of stinky feet.  For the Gospel writer, John, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he showed the real depths of his love and self-emptying.  The very God who created the atoms and souls that would become each of us, this very God chose to display his love and power by taking on a servant’s role, moving past the point of privilege and authority and into the realm of intimacy and lowliness for the sake of the other.

The poem in the central panel is part paraphrase, part original text from a Charles Wesley Hymn found in the 1739 Collection, in the section titled, “For Believers Working.”  Here’s the text:

Arise, my soul, arise, / Thy Saviour’s sacrifice! / All the names that love could find, / All the forms that love could take, / Jesus in himself has joined, / Thee, my soul, his own to make.

Equal with God most high, / He laid his glory by: He th’eternal God was born, / Man with men he deigned t’appear, / Object of his creature’s scorn, / Pleased a servant’s form to wear.

High above every name, / Jesus, the great I AM! / Bows to Jesus every knee, / Things in heaven, and earth, and hell; / Saints adore him, demons flee, / Fiends, and men, and angels feel.

He left his throne above, / Emptied himself of all but love: / Whom the heavens cannot contain, / God vouchsafed a worm to appear, / Lord of glory, Son of Man, / Poor, and vile, and abject here.

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