Wednesday, March 7, 2018

emptiness and a Lenten blizzard...

"Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before
whom we can humble ourselves without despair. "
Blaise Pascal, Pensées. This Lent is becoming a season of insistent introspection. Nothing harsh is taking place, just a growing awareness of what the cost of discipleship means for me. I have been pondering this paragraph Henri Nouwen wrote sometime before his unexpected death in 1996 as part of my Lenten journey:

We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our "horror vacui," our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, "But what if ..." It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God's actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let's pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.

This strikes me as fundamentally true. I know that regularly I try to fill up my emptiness with distractions - or tasks - rather than sit with them in trust. Small wonder then, that sometimes, just as I am about to fall asleep, these empty places sneak back into my awareness. Clearly my soul wants me to let God fill up my emptiness even as I unconsciously resist. And if I won't do it during the day, then I'll get another chance when my defenses are down. Not with cruelty or judgment as the God of my youth once demanded, but rather with patience and grace. 

For the past week I have been invited to sit with my emptiness almost nightly. Jesus once said that we cannot control the movement of the Spirit any more than we can manipulate the movement of the wind. (John 3:8) So I have no idea why this is happening now; I suspect it is so that I can practice praying, "Come, Lord Jesus, come" when it happens. Oh, I still get anxious at first - I like to sleep - so I flop around in bed for a while before sitting up to quietly welcome the silence. I want to be able to welcome this call to emptiness like I do when snow falls during the day: tenderly, gratefully, openly. I adore daylight snow storms. Everything becomes silent for a spell. The traffic stops. The world slows down. There is a peace in these hills unlike any other time. Fr. Richard Rohr has written that when human beings lose connection or experience with the rhythms of grace in nature, we often oppose the movement of the Spirit within.  

Aquinas affirms that God’s image and likeness is visible within the other-than-human realm, which few Christians were ever taught: God brought things into being in order that God’s goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because God’s goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, God produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided. This is the reason St. Francis could speak of animals as “brother” and “sister.” (Rohr, on-line meditations)

Without this grounding, we become alienated from ourselves, from our Creator
and from creation. The rhythm of grace in nature, however, regularly gives us a fresh start: "Whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence. Often those without formal education and “unbelievers” do this better than a lot of us." 

It is snowing vigorously right now in the Berkshires. We're likely to get at least another 7-12 inches before it stops tomorrow morning. Last night, as I was pushed into consciousness again even though I wanted to sleep, I sat up quietly and prayed a Centering Prayer:  "Abba" as I breathed in, and "Save me" as I breathed out. When all was calm after about ten minutes I read another few pages of my French mystery novel and fell asleep quickly. 

This is what the whole of Lent has been like for me this year: being awakened, resisting the call, breathing creation in as the insistent invitation of the Spirit to rest in God's grace and experiencing rest. Why I regularly resist I will never know? I am a slow learner. "Lord, I believe, and help my disbelief!"

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