Brandi Klingerman | September 5, 2018
Life is not possible without death and yet, modern medicine has waged an unending war against death. Now, a Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (NDIAS) residential fellow is exploring how the concept of kenosis might create a common ground for personal growth, mutual understanding, civil discourse, and productive policymaking in today’s diverse and polarized society.
Daniel Hinshaw, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery and consultant in palliative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, has joined the NDIAS for the 2018-2019 cohort to discuss kenosis in his upcoming book. In Classical Greek, “kenosis” meant “depletion” or “emptying,” and in Christian theology, the term was used to describe the voluntary self-emptying of God in becoming a human being in the person of Jesus Christ.
“With the recent shift to the non-communicable diseases of aging as the major sources of morbidity and mortality world-wide, it is the first time in human history when, for the majority of people, death will come through the aging process, which is essentially a process of kenosis, first on a physical level but also extending to the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of the person,” said Hinshaw. “The kenosis of aging is in a very real sense the ‘choreographer’ of the suffering experienced by human beings confronted by their mortality. Elements common to the kenotic process of aging include progressive functional decline, diminished autonomy, and the increasing likelihood over time of developing one or more of the diseases of aging (e.g., cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or dementia), all of which are associated with enormous healthcare costs that are spiraling out of control.”
Hinshaw says that rather than being a source of despair, a voluntary embrace of kenosis, and thus our mortality, can become a tutor or mentor that guides each of us to reconsider our priorities.
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