Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a therapist. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the therapist proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar’s cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: “Stop! You can’t add anything more when it’s already full!” The therapist set down the teapot and replied, “Exactly.”
One of the most ancient root meanings for the word empty is “the absence of fear.” How interesting! We so often think of emptiness as either an emotional state of sadness and longing for something or a spiritual state of openness and joy. And yet, at the root of being empty is this idea of being “fear-less.” Maybe we do fill ourselves up with so much of something simply because we are afraid of the emptiness. Maybe we’re anxious about what might happen, or of what we don’t know. What if the greatest gift we can give ourselves, that God gives us, that life hints at when we’re really paying attention, is the gift of nothing — the gift of emptiness?
The woman at the well story in the Gospel of John is an iconic story for Christians, and even more so for the first hearers of John’s gospel. Jesus essentially tells the Samaritan woman the water she is drawing from the well won’t satisfy, that she should empty that bucket and fill it with his “living water.” Eventually, she drops the bucket and runs off to tell others about the teacher she met who seems to know more about her than even she does. She’s a little scared, but maybe also a little excited, hopeful. It’s a little hard to tell, isn’t it?
And so it goes. It’s an almost too familiar story for many of us. It’s so very easy to be full of this story and miss what else is happening, like so much of us in most of our lives. It’s very easy to be full. A lot of us have developed a fine art of filling ourselves up — with ideas, with anxiety, with what might happen, with what has to happen, with self-affirmations, with self-doubts, with stuff.
Emptiness can be a scary prospect. It can also be the best thing ever…
This Sunday, January 13, I hope you will join us as we explore emptiness and living fearlessly.
Sunday, January 13
“Emptiness — a Great Big Bucket ‘O Nothing”
Rev. Tom McDermott
Stories, actor Jakie Cabe, the Revolution Band, and the music of
Billy Preston, the Wallin’ Jennys, and Billy Joel.
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven