The Uncertain Tour and the Gift of Emptiness

Staff_McDermott, Tom“Here I am without a message

Here I stand with empty hands

Just a spirit tired of wandering like a stranger in this land

Walking wide-eyed through this world is the only way I’ve known

Wrapped in hope and good intentions and

Bare to the bone”

— Carrie Newcomer

The 40-something-year-old woman spotted me in my booth from the other side of the exhibit hall crowd. I couldn’t help but notice her. She was dressed like an Easter morning sunrise beaming through the hundreds of men and women, educators, and vendors wandering the Exhibit Hall aisles of booksellers, classroom suppliers, and educational entertainers. She wore a bright yellow dress, yellow heels — conservative but unavoidably present against the blue carpet — large sunglasses (yes, indoors), and what might best be described as a woman’s church hat (wide-brimmed, multicolored flowers with a blue feather leaping from the hat band). She carried a large gray shoulder bag stuffed with exhibit purchases and with words printed on one side, “I Think It’s Only Fair to Warn You, I Am in Fact a Librarian!” The other side, I soon discovered, had a picture of a stack of books and read, “I Like Big Books, and I Cannot Lie . . .” (The incongruity of her Easter appearance and the sound of the rap song in my head was disorienting at first!)

“Hi! I see you’re a children’s author and storyteller. And you have all these musical instruments! I would just LOVE to hire you to come to our school,” she said, the first words out of her mouth, in a distinctively East Texas dialect. “But the truth is,” she paused, “we are sort of in the middle of nowhere. Do you ever go to nowhere in particular?”

Still struck by her “brilliance” and now her accent, I was curious how such an almost Zen-like, spiritually contemplative question could emit from an East Texas librarian’s mouth — clearly a bias I was soon going to have to learn to overcome.

“I love going nowhere in particular!” I exclaimed and laughed. “Where is nowhere?”

“We’re just outside of uncertain,” she smiled.

I laughed, but I really thought she was just messing with me at that point — that or pushing the whole Zen thing a little far. So I said, “No, really. I’d be happy to come to your school. I travel all over Texas and beyond. Where are you located?”

This time she spoke with more insistence, “Clearly, you have never been there. And you’ve missed out on one of the real wonders of Texas. Our school is located one mile from the town of Uncertain, Texas!”

Thus began a year-long series of school visits and personal encounters with some of the most iconoclastic, earthy, eccentric, and spiritually engaging people and moments I have ever experienced, which I later came to dub “The Uncertain Texas Tour.”

This Sunday, as we continue our Lenten Series, The Gifts of the Dark Wood: 7 Spiritual Gifts for Soulful Skeptics and Pilgrims, I want to explore with you “The Gift of Emptiness.”

636018637518006491-425397229_GlassThere are so many ways we can find ourselves in the Dark Wood — in a difficult place or time in our lives. Sometimes these times are thrust upon us. Sometimes we wake up, as with Dante in the Inferno, in the middle of the “unfamiliar and frightening.” There are times when the path we’re walking, the life we’re living, becomes unclear. Questions of faith arise. Questions of purpose or meaning or self-worth surface. What would it mean to actually welcome such uncertainty, such mystery? In the face of such a turn of events, an unclear path, what might it mean to empty ourselves of assumptions and certainties and to open to whatever is present?

This Sunday I’ll share some stories from the Uncertain Tour and explore “the gift of emptiness.” We’ll explore a little bit of improvisation along the way and maybe even have some fun with the idea that life is neither half full nor half empty — in some surprising ways, the deeper life of faith (and even joy) is simply to be empty — and how recognizing that emptiness is so amazingly filling! (OK, I admit, I’m starting to sound like the lady in the yellow dress!)

 

Sunday, March 12

The Gifts of the Dark Wood

“half empy, half full — there is no glass”

Rev. Tom McDermott

with the music of One Republic and Carrie Newcomer

and spoken word with Jakie Cabe.

See you Sunday!

Tom

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