Finding the Art in Everything

01 July, 2010

E is for Empty Space

I decided the empty space in my life needed renovating. It caused me a great deal of grief and anxiety, made worse by my poor attempts to fill it with the wrong things.

Slowly, I changed the way I thought about "emptiness".

I read an Annie Dillard piece about changing seasons--how she longed for "the North where unimpeded winds would hone me to a pure slip of bone." She says, "Winter is the real world, not the world gilded and pearled." The emptiness indicates a kind of purity, the completion of "a reduction, a shedding, a sloughing off."

"I stand under wiped skies directly, naked, without intercessors. Frost winds have lofted my body's bones with all their restless sprints to an airborne raven's glide. I am buoyed by a calm and effortless longing, an angled pitch of the will..."

I, too, am buoyed by a calm and effortless longing - it's the empty space. Once identified as such, I no longer needed to destroy the empty space by filling it.

Dillard continues, " The death of the self of which the great writers speak is not violent act. It is merely the slow cessation of the will's sprints and the intellect's chatter. It is waiting like a hollow bell with a stilled tongue...The waiting itself is the thing."

The bell can only ring because of the empty space between its tongue and the walls. And ring it will, but at the ordained moment - the waiting itself is the thing.

Maybe the empty space is less like a prison cell and more like a waiting room.

Henri Nouwen speaks of an important conversion for emptiness--that of loneliness to solitude. One of the hallmarks of my empty space had been what Nouwen calls an "essential aloneness which so often breaks into our consciousness as the experience of a desperate sense of loneliness...It drives us to demand more from our fellow human beings than they can give."

He instructs, "Instead of running away from loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into solitude. To live a spiritual life, we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle, persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. It is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, the outward cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play."

I have become more certain of our innate resistance to empty spaces. My spiritual experience suggests that the more innate my resistance, the more likely my own will is working against my search for peace. The conversion of the dark and empty space to a brilliant garden of solitude is critical. Nouwen points out that "the temptation is indeed very great to take flight into an intimacy and a closeness that does not leave any open space. Much suffering results from this suffocating closeness." Instead of being driven by panic and despair to fill it, I've made a vigilant commitment to always maintain an empty room, with open windows to welcome the bitter, yet purifying North wind.

No comments: