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I want to share something I read in Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor on what he calls negative capability. It may be similar to what Paul calls self-control as a fruit of the Spirit – the ability to pull our Self back.

The adolescent, excited at finding the wonderful Self, supposes that life now consists in expressing it for the edification of all others. Most of us are bored.

Real work, whether it involves making babies or poems, hamburger or holiness, is not self-expression, but its very opposite. Real workers, skilled workers, practice negative capability – the suppression of self so that the work can take place on its own. St. John the Baptist’s “I must decrease, but he must increase” is embedded in all good work. When we work well, our tastes, experiences and values are held in check so that the nature of the material or the person or the process or our God is as little adulterated or compromised by our ego as possible. The worker in the work is a self-effacing servant. If the worker shows off in his or her work, the work is ruined and becomes bad work- a projection of ego, an indulgence of self.

St. Paul’s description of Jesus, “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7), is often cited as the center point in the work of Incarnation, the making of our salvation. Kenosis. Emptying is prelude to filling. (my emphasis ) The Son of God empties himself of prerogative, of divine rights, of status and reputation, in order to be the one whom God uses to fill up creation and creatures with the glory of salvation. A bucket, no matter what wonderful things it contains, is of no use for the next task at hand until it is emptied. Negative capability.

I liked the phrase: Emptiness is a prelude to filling. We complain about the things which God uses to craft emptiness in us, when that is the best place to learn about God. At the same time, when we cast ourselves too much in the work we pollute the holy water. God, help us to be secure as empty vessels waiting to be filled with You.]

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