This week we’ll continue our Lenten exploration of “Gifts of the Dark Wood” with an examination of “The Gift of Emptiness.”
It doesn’t seem like there can be a gift in emptiness, does it? In fact, how can there be anything at all? Emptiness is, well, empty. Whether it’s something as mundane as emptiness in a bank account or a cupboard, or as serious as emptiness in a home or heart, we fear emptiness or even the prospect of emptiness.
Yet, there is another side to emptiness. That other side of emptiness can be called “space” or “room.” In order to receive something, you must have space for it or room for it. If there is no emptiness in your schedule, you don’t have room for something that may be important. If you cannot empty yourself of your pride or your opinion or your status, then receiving the ideas of another or relating to another may not be possible because there isn’t space for it. In order to have space to fill, you first have to be empty.
At one time or another we find ourselves in the Dark Wood and one aspect of the Dark Wood experience is an overwhelming sense of utter emptiness. What gift can that offer?
Paul wrote to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
For Christians, the most profound symbol of emptiness is the Dark Wood of the cross. During the season of Lent we remember the crucifixion of Jesus and the words he spoke from the cross. In Mark 15, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is a devastating expression of abject emptiness.
Then, Paul says, after this complete emptying, Jesus experienced resurrection out of the Dark Wood of the Cross:
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In “Gifts of the Dark Wood,” the book we are studying as a faith community during this season of Lent, the author, Dr. Eric Elnes, compares the Cross of Jesus to a black hole: everything is drawn to a black hole’s center, but what happens once an object enters the black hole is a mystery. “All that is really known about the inside of a black hole,” he writes, “is that at the point of singularity all the known laws of physics break down.” He goes on to say that when we find ourselves at a similar point of human “singularity,” all of our rules and certainties are broken and transformed into something new. Somewhere just on the other side of our moment of deepest despair, the gift waiting there for us is what Elnes describes as “a Presence who loves us beyond our imagining, who chooses relationship over perfection.”
But no one ever said emptying oneself in order to be filled is easy. In fact, it can be excruciating — a feeling of complete and utter darkness that feels like all is truly lost forever. But that’s where faith comes in. And if we look closely, where the gift lies. Out of the emptiness of the Dark Wood comes the fullness of the love and grace of God. Out of the emptiness of the Dark Wood often comes the space to receive the gift of the fullness of new life.
Where in your own life have you encountered emptiness so profound that you felt its gravitational pull into a dark abyss? Did you find there in that singularly difficult time the presence of God to fill that void?
I look forward to exploring the Gift of Emptiness with you this Sunday during our traditional worship in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster,