“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.”
– Henri Nouwen
Today was a beautiful day. As our group began our Day of Recollection and our presenter, Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr began sharing with us how to discover the “Monk Within,” I found myself drawn to her poetic style and use of metaphor. She began, “we offer to God everything we meant by I, so that the divine love may pass through the space that is left unimpeded.” As she spoke about the monk and how it is the universal archetype for the heart within us that searches for the divine, I knew that I was in the right place.
Most of the retreat was spent in silent reflection. Most of the teaching was done by God in those spaces. The communal silence shared among the retreatants became comfortable and cherished and easy to flow in and out of.
As we finished our day, I began to sense a great unease welling up within me. Everyone was leaving to head home to their families, but I had chosen already to extend my retreat another day for some more alone time with God. As I said goodbye to new heart sisters, my unease became disquiet and settled into my belly like the stone representing my brokenness I had carried to the center of the labyrinth earlier that afternoon. A fear sprang up within me—solid and palpable, without cause or reason—a fear of the emptiness of time. The space and solitude that was waiting after all my fellow retreatants left for the day. I began to wonder if I should not just pack my belongings and head home early.
After the last of the ladies left, I went back to my room and paced about. I tried to nap. I returned to the labyrinth that had offered such comfort and outlet for my nervous energy before. I couldn’t focus my steps, but just kept thinking I should go home and spend time with my family and be at church in the morning and run away from this open space. I was scared.
I packed my bags and sat them next to the door of my room. Finally, I called out for help. I picked up the phone and called my husband. We talked for a few moments (I thought I did a pretty good job of sounding light and upbeat—he tells me I did not.) I told him I wanted to come home. He told me I needed to stay and pray through this emotion, to get to the bottom of it.
I went to the chapel and knelt by the altar to pray. “Lord, Jesus, I know this fear is not from you. I know that you want me to stay, but I feel so alone here. Please let me go home.”
“Stay with Me. You are not alone,” came the answer. “Sit here with me for a while.”
So I closed my eyes and quieted my mind and focused only on that soft voice inside that said, “Stay.” An hour later, Sr. Macrina came to invite me to dinner with the community and I jumped at the opportunity.
God poured out exactly what I needed this evening…first in his invitation to sit at peace with Him and then with His invitation to join the community of St Scholastica for a movie night. What a joy it was to be invited into the personal residence of the Sisters of St Scholastica and see them through lenses unfettered by my preconceived notions of what life within these monastery walls is like. It is not unlike mine, with chores and housework, and vocational work, and friends and quarrels and conflict and movies and pizza with the girls. It is full of life and love and laughter. I was blessed to be a part of that life for just a short time.
I head up to my room content and no longer afraid. God knew exactly what I needed and because I was willing to surrender my emptiness to Him—he filled it….with love.
“The most important practice of all to the monk is the practice of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr