Oh, My Word

A friend of mine started each new year by choosing a single word to guide and inspire her. She’d spend the final days of December discerning her word for the next year. As someone who loves language, I was intrigued by this. And although my friend is no longer with us, her beauty endures in many ways — including this legacy — which I remember every January.

Although I don’t consciously choose a word each year, it sometimes seems like a word chooses me. My word for 2017 is kenosis.


I ran across kenosis last summer, in the middle of Harold Bloom’s 1973 book The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Of all places. I can’t even remember what rabbit hole I fell down to end up there.

But you know how you learn a new word, and then you see it everywhere? Well, this is how kenosis became part of my consciousness. Now I’ve encountered it in other books.

Kenosis is a Greek word that means “an emptying.” In theology, it’s the word used to denote the idea of Jesus becoming human and emptying himself of divine privileges: Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

I hope to empty myself out writing-wise this year. Last year, I let a lot of ideas slip through my fingers because they didn’t seem to cohere with the book I was (and am) writing. This year, I plan to empty myself of these things that inspire me, even if they may not be as finished or polished as I’d like. It’s a “cleanse” of sorts, giving light to thoughts, not saving everything for some vague later.

What we’ve got is today. I plan to pour out all I’ve got. Kenosis, you guys.