Sunday, March 01, 2015

Facing Our Fear of Emptiness

Henri Nouwen writes,

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. (Bread for the Journey, Feb 28 reading)

Our lives are consumed with preoccupation, desperate attempts to keep ourselves focused on anything but the emptiness that we feel underground. We fear, I think, that if we slow down and listen that the emptiness will overtake us and consume us. Scripture comforts us here, presenting our God as one who hovers over our emptiness, pregnant with promise.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty,darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2 NIV)

Silence and solitude are two of God’s appointed means given to his people to bring our emptiness before him in a covenant relationship of trust, surrender and hope. Dallas Willard is a good guide here.

By solitude we mean being out of human contact, being alone, and being so for lengthy periods of time. To get out of human contact is not something that can be done in a short while, for that contact lingers long after it is, in one sense, over.

Silence is a natural part of solitude and is its essential completion. Most noise is human contact. Silence means to escape from sounds, noises, other than the gentle ones of nature. But it also means not talking, and the effects of not talking on our soul are are different from those of simple quietness. (Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, 357)

My most important rule for any discipline is to start small, think baby steps. At all costs, avoid the heroic. Starting small offends our pride, opening the way for God to work. It also starts from where we actually are, with what we’re actually able to do, with God’s help. In this case, if silence and solitude are new to you, start small, maybe 3-5 minutes a day. The point is to start small and do it daily. Turn off your smart phone and make yourself unavailable for a time; surprisingly, the world will keep spinning without you! Once you feel comfortable with that amount of time, build on it until you’re able to do 20-30 minutes a day.

This probably sounds like a profound waste of time, and it is, and that’s the point! Our surrender of time and space erode the roots of spiritualities of control that emphasize what we say and do and bring us back to our proper position of responding to God. Eventually, this posture can fill much more than just this devoted space and time. Our days are filled with many more “empty moments” than we realize. It is possible to learn how to fill these moments with God.

Emptiness need not be feared because it is the womb of our souls where God is at work knitting together new life in Christ.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4 NIV)

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