A Bright Sadness: Emptied and Hollow

Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; 
you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

waterfall by Josh Scholten

I am often unprepared for the rush of challenges each clinic day brings.  Each call, each message, each tug on my arm, each box of kleenex handed over, each look of desperate hopelessness  —  I empty out continuously throughout the day to try to fill the gaping holes I see. 

If I’m down and dry, hollowed to the core with no more left to give, I pray for more than I could possibly deserve.

And so it pours over me, torrential and flooding, and I only have a mere cup to hold out for filling.  There is far more cascading grace than I can even conceive of, far more love descending than this cup of mine could ever hold, far more hope ascending from the mist and mystery of doctoring,  over and over again.

I am never left empty for long,  grateful for hallowed hollows.

An Advent Paradox: The Empty Filled

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The world is filled, and filled with the Absolute. To see this is to be made free.
~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

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And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 1:22-23

 

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My mouth will utter praise of the Lord, of the Lord through whom all things have been made and who has been made amidst all things;
who is the Revealer of His Father, Creator of His Mother;
who is the Son of God from His Father without a mother,
the Son of Man through His mother without a father.

He is as great as the Day of Angels, and as small as a day in the life of men;
He is the Word of God before all ages, and the Word made flesh at the destined time.
Maker of the sun, He is made beneath the sun.

In His Father He abides; from His mother He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth, under the heavens He was born upon earth.

Wise beyond all speech, as a speechless child, He is wise.
Filling the whole world, He lies in a manger.
Ruling the stars, He nurses at His mother’s breast.
He is great in the form of God and small in the form of a servant, so much so that His greatness is not diminished by His smallness, nor His smallness concealed by His greatness.
~St. Augustine

 

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How empty was the world before Christ! From Mary’s untouched womb to Joseph’s futile search for a place to sleep in Bethlehem, to the shepherds’ dismal existence on the hillsides, to Simeon’s arms aching to hold the Messiah, to Anna’s long wait in the temple.

In a million ways, seen and unseen, the empty spaces were filled, the hunger sated, the thirst quenched, the rest assured. He joined us so we shall never lack again. He became one with us–all is fulfilled and filled fully.

 

 

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Buttonholed

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The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   
The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   
The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   
I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.
~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

 

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Detail from “Descent from the Cross” by Rogier van der Weyden

 

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 buttonhole
Here’s the truth of it:
I am the buttonhole lying in wait, hidden in the background – mere open space for locking in and securing the eye-catching button.
I’m neither decorative nor particularly noticeable yet chock-full of potential purpose even though empty.
A button without me is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
Yet a button hole like me without a button to latch to is just plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts.
I never have forgotten what I’m meant to be and what I can do.  I only need the right button to fit me perfectly.
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As I Stand Here, Empty Handed

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Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?
~Mary Oliver, The Sun

 

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On this day of transition
we stand together, wavering,
barely balancing
on the cusp of light and shadow~

this knowledge of a now diminishing sun
rests heavy in my bones as I struggle
with letting this glorious light
slip through my fingers~
I stand empty-handed
as I attend to less important things.

As darkness begins to claim our days again,
I seek to rise like a full moon
illuminating the long night,
burnishing my readiness for eternity.

 

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What’s a Heaven For?

 

each of us has known the pleasure
of spring, the way it feels for something closed

to open: the soft, heavenly weather of arrival.
~Faith Shearin from “Geese”

 

 

This welcome and painful season of opening and emptying:
from cloistered tight
to reaching beyond our grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?

 

 

He Emptied Himself

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Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2: 6-8

 

[The Incarnation is like] a wave of the sea which,
rushing up on the flat beach,
runs out, even thinner and more transparent,
and does not return to its source but sinks into the sand and disappears.
~Hans Urs von Balthasar from Origen: Spirit and Fire

 

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This is a week of emptying. It is impossible to approach tomorrow’s supper and His anguished prayer without feeling hollowed out, our empty spaces then filled to the brim with grace. More over, through commemoration of these historical events, God on earth once again empties Himself onto our earthly soil and into our fleshly souls. He washes our dirty feet, feeds us at His table, and pleads for our forgiveness when we deserve none of it. He loses Himself in us. Through Him, we are welcomed home, whole and holy.

Hollowed, then hallowed.

 

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Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost.
~Czeslaw Milosz from “The Sun”

 

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The Hollowness of the Season

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The way the trees empty themselves of leaves,
let drop their ponderous fruit,
the way the turtle abandons the sun-warmed log,
the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—

this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.

And so, what else can you do
but let yourself be broken
and emptied? What else is there
but waiting in the autumn sun?
~Carolyn Locke from The Place We Become

 

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November is the month of windstorms: a few years ago one took down a ninety plus year old orchard tree on our farm.

The old Spitzenberg tree, the favorite variety of Thomas Jefferson, had been failing over the previous ten years. It was rotting centrally with holes that housed squirrels and their treasure trove of filbert nuts, and bearing fruit that was startling red and sweet but diminishingly small and scabbed, dropping to the ground beneath like so many drops of blood. Blue jays loved the branches and quarreled relentlessly with the squirrels over prime real estate and mountain view property in the crown of the tree.

No more. As it was eased on to its side in the night storm, swept up in the torrent of air and rain, it went quite peacefully, gracefully with nary a broken branch as they reached out to touch the ground, almost gratefully, breaking neatly at the base of its trunk, not even disturbing the sod. The roots remain covered underground, still clinging to rocky soil, with no where to pump to any longer. The old tree had simply bled out.

Somehow we needed to dispose of the remains. As my husband made several chain saw cuts through the trunk to make pieces easily movable, the extent of the astonishing hole in this old tree became visible. It was suffering from an extreme equivalent of human osteoporosis with a brittle skeleton that somehow had lasted through innumerable windstorms until this week, even while still bearing apples, still trying its best to be fruitful.

When it fell, the trunk oriented itself so it provided a view right through to the barnyard down the hill, telescoping what the tree had surveyed for so many years of its life. Clearly this had been a holey trunk for some years; within the cavity at the base were piles of different size rocks stashed there by the Lawrence children two generations ago and more recently our Gibson children. There was also a large tarnished spoon, lost decades ago into the dark center of the apple tree and now retrieved at its death. At some point in the last quarter century, a Gibson child playing a farm version of frisbee golf must have flung a bucket lid at the hole in the tree, and it disappeared into the gap and settled at the bottom.

All this, like a treasure trove of history, was just waiting for the time when the tree would give up its secrets at its death. There were no gold or silver coins, no notes to the future like a glass bottle put out to sea. This well hidden time capsule held simply rocks and spoon and lid.

I realized as I stared into the gulf of that empty trunk that I’m hollow too, more hollow than I care to admit. Like so many of us, stuff is hidden deep inside that we’d just as soon not have discovered. Our outside scaffolding braces against the buffeting by the winds and storms of life, as we cling to this mortal soil. It is clear we’d be much stronger if we were wholly solid throughout, filled with something stronger even than our outsides.

But we tend to get filled up with a lot of nothing, or even worse than nothing, a lot of garbage. This is stuff that weakens us, furthers the rot, shortens our fruitful life, doing nothing to make us more whole and holy.

I’m looking more critically now at what fills my empty spots since staring down the barrel of that old apple tree trunk. May the hollow be hallowed.

 

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