This book, written by Marlena Graves, serves as a reminder to the forgotten core truths of Christianity that appear so demonized in our society today. Graves takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery, in a raw and contradictory way, so that he/she comes out on the other side understanding more about the heart of Jesus and how we as Christians are to live in such an inauthentic world. The hard-hitting reality is that Jesus came and lived a life that was radical in speech and action, and we are called to do the same.
KEY SCRIPTURE PASSAGE
Philippians 2:5-8 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled [emptied] himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
THE AIM OF THIS BOOK
You may be asking yourself, so what does Graves mean when she says that we become ourselves when we forget ourselves? Now that sounds confusing and challenging right!? Well, she boils it down to a simple statement: “Being emptied in order for God to fill me (and any of us) is the pathway to deeper communion with him” (pg. 5). The idea stems from the Greek word kenosis which means “to empty out”. Graves begins by challenging the reader to realize that this is probably not an unfamiliar word, especially if you been active in Christian circles, however it is one thing to define and discuss kenosis in a detached sort of way—to keep it at a safe distance. “It is another thing altogether when God calls us to put it into practice. And he always calls us to put it into practice” (pg.6). The rest of the book is full of instruction and practical ideas of how to live in a state of kenosis in such a way that glorifies God above all else.
1.) Self-Emptying: The Mystery of Our Salvation—surrendering our whole lives and will to God.
2.) Down Low with Jesus—Having poverty of heart, soul, and mind that reflects Jesus (Matt. 5:3-12).
3.) All Flame—Living in such a way that Christianity is not merely in our heads (mental abstraction) but rather is practiced through effectual prayer, fasting, and action.
4.)Daily Returning Home— “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3:8); God calls me to reality and to leave the fantasy existence behind and walk towards the eternal home.
5.) Do You See What I See? Transfiguration—We are able to truly see when we see the earth from below rather than from above. The practice of being a “God-seer” by seeing the reality of who I am and who others are and looking happy at them.
6.) Our Teachers: Messengers of Grace—Look around to see that they way of Jesus is not inconvenient and that our own self-interest blinds us to the enriching knowledge of learning from those around us.
7.) Rich Toward God—The treasure we hold dear to our heart, reveals who is the Lord of our life. Generosity is not contingent on abundance, rather God-seers defy the life of scarcity and live out of the abundance of the Kingdom.
8.) Memento Mori—Adopting the mindset of how fragile and vulnerable we are as humans.
9.) Cradled in the Heart of God: Gratitude and Contentment—Focusing on the gifts rather than the desires; taking our eyes off the deprivations and realizing how the Lord has blessed each person to serve Him.
10.) Incarnating the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Your Kingdom Come—(Phil. 2:3-4) Being believers whose selfless life exhibit holiness without even trying because their heart and the life of Christ have been woven into the fabric of who they are.
In my opinion, one of the most fruitful and cutting chapters was Chapter 8: Memento Mori. Within this chapter, Graves focuses on teaching the reader to embody the psalmist’s words, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). She highlights this ancient practice of memento mori, which is to have the expectation of death daily before one’s eyes (Saint Benedict). She uniquely depicts this concept by stating,
“Memento mor-ing—if I may use that term—is living and seeing through the brevity-of-life lens. A memento mori posture allows us to more constantly glimpse the “ripe,” “full,” and “perfect” moments—to live steeped in kairos time, to live God’s priorities rightly. We remember we are human instead of superhuman” (pg.116).
If I had my guess, I bet you as the reader would agree when I say that this concept is vital to understand and strive toward in the day and age we are in. An age where the world around us seems to be minute-by-minute drowning deeper into the darkness of sin, where the light and simple joys of the day seem to wane, and the hope of the promised tomorrow dims in the distance. This brevity of life that Graves mentions reminds us as Christians that we are only transient beings living not for ourselves, but living for our Creator God who commanded us to spread the good news until we breathe our last breath.
Graves’ righting style, at times, was difficult to follow with her redundant use of short, pithy statements. Every so often her language made the ideas she presented seem choppy rather than fluid and left me yearning for smoother transitions. All that to say, her emotion and personal antidotes engages the reader to understand on a deeper level the human experience that occurs when someone forgets about themselves and remembers to whom they are living for instead. The countless biblical stories containing the recommended practices added beneficial support and evidence on how to live a life that is upside down.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK
This book at first may appear controversial and intimidating to the everyday reader, but the discipline it addresses of humility and living a life modeled after Christ is far-more beneficial than detrimental. I would encourage each believer to labor through any discomfort Graves’ creates by pointing out inward sin and misconceptions because we are called to live authentic lives as image bearers of Christ. As Graves highlights, “God is intent on making [us] more real, a less-distorted image of Him” (pg.6). Challenge yourself to settle into the Kingdom-come mindset that stirs us up to good works and sacrificial living, so that a dying world may be restored to life through each believer breathing life into it.