On purposeful emptiness


As you may know, Caryll Houselander is one of my heroes. She’s a mystic, an artist, a poet. A childlike visionary and truth-teller. A lover of Love. And on this day, the day after Thanksgiving, this aptly-named Black Friday, this Friday of the thirty-third week in Ordinary Time, still nine days short of Advent, she brings me peace and gives me pause. In The Reed of God, she writes of emptiness:


It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended. It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in his heart. It is emptiness like the hollow in the cup, shaped to receive water or wine. It is emptiness like that of the bird’s nest, built in a round warm ring to receive the little bird. The pre-Advent emptiness of Our Lady’s purposeful virginity was indeed like those three things. She was a reed through which the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song. She was the flowerlike chalice into which the purest water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice. She was the warm nest rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird.


A reed, a cup, a nest. These simple, ordinary objects sanctified through the eyes of faith and prayerful imagining. This purposeful, pregnant, pre-Advent emptiness, modeled so beautifully by Our Lady, is the emptiness I’m striving for. Our culture invites us to be filled, filled with food and drink and material possession. We find our time being filled with mere busyness, flitting from thing to thing without a chance to stop and ponder, to rest in still silence, to notice. I fall prone so easily to the perplexing comfort of constant noise, mindless scrolling, overscheduled days. Yet, there’s a heartbreaking emptiness in this deceiving, worldly fullness. For the things of this world do not fill our hearts and minds and souls with joy and meaning and depth. I ache instead for purposeful emptiness, longing to be filled by my Maker, by the very Author of that ache in me.


I’m choosing to relish these final days of Ordinary Time. These days of simplicity, hiddenness, routine. I’ve given up my long-lived indignation at the secular world’s rushing ahead to Christmastime, knowing that I cannot expect it to cultivate holiness in me. Instead, I’m looking to choose silence and make room and increase my longing for what, and Who, is to come. I’m turning over these thoughtful questions of Caryll’s in my mind:


Are we reed pipes? Is He waiting to live lyrically through us?

Are we chalices? Does He ask to be sacrificed in us?

Are we nests? Does He desire of us a warm, sweet abiding in domestic life at home?


In these days and weeks of waiting and watching, wondering and welcoming, I pray that the answer, for you and for me, would be a resounding yes.


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