Empty-ness and Empty-ing

It is not God’s will that we should remain in need. He would fulfill all our needs by delivering us from all possessions and giving us Himself in exchange. If we would belong to His love, we must remain always empty of everything else, not in order to be in need, but precisely because possessions make us needy.

Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

 We are all of us like clay jars is the way I remembered it, and as time goes by, each jar gets cracked and broken and eventually crumbles away until there is not a single thing left of it except for the most important thing of all, the only thing about it that is ultimately so real that nothing on earth or heaven has the power even to touch it, let alone to destroy it, and that is the emptiness that the jar contained, which is one with the emptiness of all the other jars and Emptiness itself. Nor is that Emptiness ever to be confused with nothingness, but is rather whatever of its many names we call it by—nirvana, satori, eternal life, the peace of God.

Frederick Buechner, Crazy Holy Grace

Each day the first:

Each day a life.

Each morning we must hold out the chalice

of our being

to receive, to carry, to give back.

It must be held out empty—

for the past must only be reflected

in its polish, its shape, its capacity…

Lord, grant me the freedom to be an empty cup.

                        Dan Bagby (my own 20 year old self’s pastor)

The idea of emptiness keeps coming to me. That’s what happens when I write and read every day in the spirit of wrestling and wondering. Over some time, an idea is repeated over and over in different ways and somehow takes on a new shape. I just happened upon my college pastor’s meditation poem alongside the other quotations from Merton and Buechner in my reading the past few weeks.

Each day …holding out the chalice of our being. It must be held out empty—for the past must only be reflected in its polish, its shape, its capacity. Dan’s words, like Merton’s and Buechner’s, go on to speak of the freedom that our relationship with God grants us. Yes, it is a freedom that allows this kind of emptying of that, which holds me captive to my practiced way of living.

Empty-ness and empty-ing, are two words that hold new meanings in my life right now and, I think, in a life of abundance. Self-emptying—that empty place in the jar Buechner recalls from a Buddist story—means I empty myself of myself to be open to God and others. This idea of emptying myself of myself offers the possibility of NOT wondering what I will do next, wondering what other people thought or think of me, being concerned with most of the self-aggrandizing, comparing, and deprecating thoughts that fill my head when I’m not clearly paying attention to the moment.

Emptying has also been a literal pursuit that has challenged my perception and reality of what is necessary. I am literally emptying my life of weight—letting go of physical things like all the children’s books that filled a whole wall of my office. These books have enriched me and have served me in the past. But as they say in my yoga class, let go of what no longer serves you, and I believe that this is true at this time. In a larger conversation, that is what Merton and Walter Brueggeman in his writing are also saying. We become entrenched in our consumer-driven way of living and belonging that cause us to be too connected to our possessions, things, the ideology of successful accumulation that feeds the scarcity mentality I feel in keeping stuff.

In an act of emptying, I invited two of my graduate students to come get all of the children’s books and professional books in my office. Giving up this “stuff,” which was significant, was like releasing a burden, a way of life I have carefully cultivated. However, in this transfer of vocation, I also shared beloved possibilities for their lives. The act was a literal emptying and subsequent opening of my own self and way of being in the world.

Let go and let God seems so much like an easy platitude, an opt-out strategy. While it might seem to my striving worldview as not doing anything, it is actually doing the hard thing—emptying out the things that keep me tied to myself.

There are plenty of books in the library—well they don’t have all my sticky notes that tract my thinking. Maybe, I’ve been given the freedom for new thoughts to be had if I’m not clinging to those I’ve already recorded.

Come to us, Lord Jesus, to unsettle our expectations and certainties, open our hearts to bewilderment that we may be open to your wisdom; to inexplicable possibilities that You bring.                    Adapted from Brueggeman, A Way Other Than Our Own

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