And He Humbled Himself

A few years ago I started a book writing project. I have about 3/4 of it written, but haven’t touched it for some time. I began it around the time when I started making the Advent and Lenten Lectio Divina Journals. I was feeling passionate about helping people encounter Scripture in easy and meaningful ways. I was also incorporating some simple Bible verse memorization in our homeschool day.

I decided to try to write something about a foundational piece of Scripture and attempt to incorporate all these ideas. It has Lectio Divina, some Scripture exegesis (the fancy word for exploration, analysis, and interpretation of Scripture), activities to help memorize the passage, space for reflection and follow-up discussion questions. The passage I chose was the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:5-11.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever have this manuscript in a publishable state, I have been thinking about it lately and am dusting it off a little bit. Today is Good Friday, the day of days. Jesus, true God and true Man, offers Himself as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice so that we, His beloved creation, could once again be one with God. This passage beautifully sums up the mystery of Christ. I thought I’d offer my thoughts and research on the first verse, Philippians 2:8 here with you all (* indicate the citations listed at the bottom). I’d love to hear what you think, if you find it insightful or would be interested in hearing more.

We are living in a unique time in history. I hope that during this Great Lent (as some have been calling it) you have learned more about yourself and your relationship with God. As we look forward to Sunday, let’s remember that no matter what chaos rains down around us, we are an Easter people. Darkness and death, though deep and dark indeed, cannot shut out the light of Christ.


and he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross

Philippians 2:8

We will start, with a brief study of words. Paul opens this verse by focusing us on the word, “humbled” which he interestingly uses as a verb. This is the same Greek word, tapeinoó, Paul uses in the verses prior to the hymn (Phil 2:3-4). Here is the key which unlocks the first 4 verses of this hymn. Briefly, let’s recall what it means for Paul to be humble:

  1. Do nothing out of selfishness or a desire to further your own status
  2. Regard others as more important than yourself
  3. Do not look out for your own interests first
  4. Put the needs of others before your own

Paul explained to the Philippi community what humility is in theory, but here he illustrates in no uncertain terms exactly what humility is in flesh and blood. Humility is Jesus, who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, even though He was well within His right to demand it (1). Jesus emptied Himself (2), taking the form of a servant, the lowliest of the low (3). He became obedient (4) even to the point of death. Here we have on full display what it means to be humble. It is to be like Christ.*

Pope Benedict XVI compares Jesus to Adam when he states, 

Through the Cross of Christ man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort, to put himself in God’s place and in this way lost the original dignity that had been given to him. Jesus, instead, was “in the form of God” but humbled himself, immersed himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam who is in us and restore to man the dignity he had lost. The [Church] Fathers emphasize that he made himself obedient, restoring to human nature, through his own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.

Pope Benedict XVI. General Audience: Wednesday 27. https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20120627.html

Origin, one of the Church Fathers, reflects on this verse in one of his Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. He states that Jesus’ obedience, even to death, was part of God’s gathering the whole world and all its inherent brokenness due to sin back under His authority.** Paul is expressing the mysterious reality that God descended into His creation. This hymn can be broken into two distinct sections: the descent (Phil 2:6-8) and the ascent(Phil 2:7-11). Here we reach the depths of the descent. St. Augustine pondered these crucial words in this way: “He ’emptied Himself,’ He ‘humbled himself.’ Though He was God, He appeared as man. He was despised as He walked on earth, He who made the heaven. He was despised as though a mere man, as though of no power. Yea, not despised only, but slain moreover.”***

The downward movement of Christ is reflected deeply upon by Henri Nouwen in his book The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. He challenges us to see the downward way the way of Christ. Humanity, in all our brokenness, needed a savior. How beautiful, how mysterious, that our God chose to enter into that brokenness, to descend down into its very core death itself, in order that we might be redeemed. Nouwen tells us, “The great mystery upon which our faith rests is that the One who is in no way like us, who cannot be compared with us, nor enter into competition with us, has come among us and taken on our mortal flesh.”**** Note the echoes of Paul’s definition of humility. Jesus doesn’t come to compete with us but serve us. He is God, powerful and mighty, yet he enters into creation as a tiny, helpless baby. 

And then to top it all off, Jesus dies. There can be no greater descent than this. Jesus, our Savior, is obedient to the Father, and offers Himself as ransom for us all. 

The spotless lamb, the blameless victim. The one true God who kneels at our feet, wishing to wash them clean allows Himself to be raised up on a cross for our salvation. Pope John Paul II quotes St. Ambrose at length, with words of such power and beauty I couldn’t hope to do them justice by paraphrasing. 

“Christ, hung on the tree of the Cross… was pierced by the lance, whereby blood and water flowed out, sweeter than any ointment, from the victim acceptable to God, spreading throughout the world the perfume of sanctification…. Thus, Jesus, pierced, spread the perfume of the forgiveness of sins and of redemption. Indeed, in becoming man from the Word which he was, he was very limited and became poor, though he was rich, so as to make us rich through his poverty (cf. II Cor 8: 9). He was powerful, yet he showed himself as deprived, so much so that Herod scorned and derided him; he could have shaken the earth, yet he remained attached to that tree; he closed the heavens in a grip of darkness, setting the world on the cross, but he had been put on the Cross; he bowed his head, yet the Word sprung forth; he was annihilated, nevertheless he filled everything. God descended, man ascended; the Word became flesh so that flesh could revindicate for itself the throne of the Word at God’s right hand; he was completely wounded, and yet from him the ointment flowed. He seemed unknown, yet God recognized him”

St. Ambrose. III, 8, Saemo IX, Milan-Rome 1987, pp. 131, 133 as quoted by Pope John Paul II. General Audience: Wednesday 19 November 2003. Vatican. https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/2003/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_20031119.html

* Brant Pitre. Philippians 2. YouTube.

** Origin. Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). http://kenosis.info/ANF-10A.html.

*** St. Augustine. Sermons on Selected Lessons, Sermon 42: Pt 2. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7).  http://kenosis.info/NPN1-06E.htm

**** Henri Nouwen. The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. (Maryknoll, Orbis Books. 2007). 38.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Working the Soil – Ash Wednesday 2020

We planted the garden last weekend. All the kids helped to clear out the beds and turn the soil. We were all surprised to discover large roots deep beneath the surface. They stretched and twisted through almost the whole bed! How did this happen?

For starters, our garden has been “on break” for a year. Between being pregnant with Gabe and then learning how to function with 5 kids put the garden far down on our priority list. So, the garden has not received a love it needed and now has all manner of weeds and plant matter which we did not intend.

Now the garden is beautiful, but in a barren way. The soil is dark and rich and inviting, but there is nothing above the surface. All the work that we did, all the planting that was done, it appears there is nothing to show for our efforts. This is how Lent works.

Today is it is Ash Wednesday. Today is the first day that we dig our shovel into the soil of our soul. We have not done this for a whole year, and we may be surprised to discover what is lurking beneath the surface.

We may find rocks, weeds, or stubborn roots that we have to follow the trail of to find their source. If we don’t remove these obstacles, our new seedlings won’t have the room or nutrients they need to survive. We may also be pleased to discover bulbs of plants we had forgotten, waiting to be watered and brought back to life. Perhaps we already have plants growing in this garden of our souls, but these also need some TLC. This is the time of year that we prune and cut back to shape our trees and bushes so that they can grow to their fullest potential.

God is waiting to plant seeds of peace, faith, joy, hope, and many more good things within us. However, God is a good gardener and He knows when the soil is ready and when the soil needs to be worked. We would be deceiving ourselves if we think we are walking into Lent ready for God to do the planting. There is always more work that can be done in a garden.

As we commence with Lent, and I’m talking to myself here as much as anyone else, I pray that we are all open to the work that God wishes to do in our souls. It is hard to overturn what is deeply rooted, but when the root is impeding the growth of new plants it has to go. There’s something extremely satisfying about extracting a tough weed all the way to its roots. To be able to say, “You’re not coming back,” and mean it with all confidence. Let’s work together with God rather than pulling against Him. Let’s allow Him to prepare our souls for the incredible gifts he wishes to give us.

Don’t forget to go download your FREE Lenten journal! Digging into God’s Word is a great way to discover what needs to stay and what needs to go in the garden of your soul.

Warp and Weft – Plus FREE Lent Journals

I think it’s high time I came out and claimed myself as a fiber artist. For anyone unaware, I have a healthy obsession with yarn. I crochet, cross stitch, try to knit (not well at all!), sew, quilt (also very amateur) and now, my latest project, weaving. Just this week I hauled all 5 kids to Home Depot to buy a few boards of pine and a box of nails in order to make my own frame loom.

First project on the loom.

And I’m in love. How haven’t I been weaving my whole life? It’s like coloring, which by the way I also enjoy greatly, but with yarn. The phrase, “Match made in heaven,” comes to mind. Up until this week, I knew little about weaving. So, the learning curve has been steep. But I’m soaking it all up, thanks to the generosity of other weavers on YouTube. I stumbled upon one video from a group of tapestry makers who are based at the Getty Museum, the site of a grand tapestry organization dating back to King Louis XIV outside Paris. These men and women are creating massive, handwoven tapestries, some taking multiple years to create. And they are breathtaking.

The first step in these intricate tapestries is the same as on my simple frame loom – warp the loom. The warp threads are the ones that go up and down your piece. The woman narrating explained, “The warp is one, continuous piece of thread.” The design comes in the weft threads. These are the threads that travel across the piece. They start and stop at the artist’s whim, moving fluidly about to create the overall picture.

There is a poem that floats around, the author is unknown, called The Master Weaver’s Plan. The poem speaks of God as the Master Weaver. He is the one who weaves the weft threads throughout our lives, picking up colors both light and dark. Our life is a tapestry.

Another way of looking at it is that our life is just one weft thread among thousands, millions, traveling across the tapestry of the universe. We interact with others, creating new shapes and designs we are unable to see. Only God, who has in view the entire masterpiece, is able to discern each thread’s unique purpose.

Both of these images focus on the weft, on the colorful threads which travel across the design. But what about the warp, that continuous piece of thread which undergirds the entire piece? Any weaver will tell you that if your warp is off – too loose, too tight, uneven or haphazard – the entire thing will go wrong. If God is the master weaver, and we are the weft, then who or what is the warp?

Jesus of course!

John’s Gospel tells us that before there was creation, there was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word, the Logos in Greek, is Jesus Christ. We can see in the very foundations of Genesis, at the moment when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, God is making plans for their salvation. Up and down the Scriptures, Israel is being prepared for their Messiah. Through Jesus’ Passion, the thread which began before the beginning continues unto eternity. Our sure foundation, our solid rock, our taut warp.

I was joking with a friend the other day about how much yarn I have. She was encouraging me to try out a new kind and maybe do a spotlight on it for the blog. I carelessly said, “I’m sure I can find God somewhere in yarn.” Turns out I was more right than I realized!

How God Works

If we want to get to know our Master Weaver better, we need to look at His Word. This is why every Lent for the past few years I have created Lenten Lectio Divina Journals. I’m so please to offer this journal as a free printable, updated for this Lent 2020. It includes:

  • A guide for how to pray in the lectio divina method
  • Scripture passages taken from the daily readings for each day of Lent and the Triduum
  • A blank page which may be used if you wish to select your own passages to pray with
  • A page for homily notes which you can print and place wherever you need them within the journal.

I’ve created two sizes of the journal. One is A5 and the other is a standard 8.5×11. The A5 you will need to print on A5 specific paper or cut down but it will create a smaller book once finished and be easier to carry around.

I’d love to hear any feedback you have so I can continue to make these better each year. I pray you feel the movement of the Spirit within these sacred words during the Lenten Season. May they be a source of inspiration, solace and encouragement for all of our walks of life.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com