When you see the word “Empty,” what is your gut feeling? Is it negative? An empty bank account means trouble. An empty stomach means hunger. An empty person usually refers to someone who is vacuous. When someone says her life feels empty, it usually means devoid of meaning. Often when I feel empty, I feel depleted of energy, tired, worn out.
On the other hand, especially in the United States, “Full” means something good. I have a full belly. My bank account is full. To say our hearts, minds, souls are full means that we live in abundance.
But if we go beyond these dualisms, we will see that there is a complete emptiness that means complete fullness. Many different religious traditions invite us to a kind of prayer or meditation where we empty ourselves as completely as we can in order to be open more fully to God and to allow God’s presence to fill us.
In this past week’s text, Jesus said, “You must lose yourself in order to find your Self.”
Nagarjuna (one of the most important Buddhist teachers, after Gautama, the Buddha) says: “I am not, I will not be. I have not, I will not have. This frightens all children, and kills fear in the wise.”
Aldous Huxley said that on one level all of life is impermanent, inconstant, changing, but that there is a dimension of life which is infinite. The word “religion” literally means to re-connect. It is related to the word ligament, the connective tissue in our bodies. Religions give us a way, a path, to re-connect with infinity, with that which is ultimate, with God.
Albert Einstein said: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affectation for a few people near us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
This coming weekend is Palm Sunday in most Christian traditions. We proclaim the story of Jesus riding a donkey into the holy city of Jerusalem. Most people do not realize that in Jesus’ day, when a king rode a horse into a city, it meant that he was ushering in a reign of war. When a king rode a donkey into a city, on the other hand, it meant that he was ushering in a reign of peace. This year at our church, the children from our theater camp will act out the Palm Sunday story. One of the dads will play the donkey. He will carry Jesus (acted by his daughter) on his shoulders. Everyone will be given a palm, and invited to join the procession around the church, proclaiming “Hosanna (Hosanna literally means “Save or rescue us!”) in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in God’s name!”
My favorite part of the story is when the threatened religious leaders yell at Jesus: “Tell your followers to be silent!” and Jesus replies, “I tell you, if they were silent, the rocks themselves would shout out and sing!” (Luke 19:40) In other words, Jesus is saying that nature has a wisdom that is beyond most human wisdom. That rocks and stones may be filled with God’s presence more than some people.
My other favorite text for Palm Sunday is from the ancient hymn (song) in Philippians 2: “Not counting equality with God something that could be grasped, God emptied Godself, and became fully human, even unto death.” The Greek word that is used here is “kenosis:” emptying of self.
This coming weekend Christians around the world bring the forty days of Lent to an end, and enter Holy Week, the heart of our faith. Lent has been a journey from death to life, a forty day journey of dying to those things in our lives which we need to die to, in order to rise, with Christ, to a whole new way of life. We follow in the footsteps of Christ this week.
The great climax of this week is what is called the Three Days: the Triduum. One of my favorite moments during holy week is the Easter Vigil, which is held on Holy Saturday, the night before Easter. We light the Paschal (Christ/Easter) candle for the first time, and pray that “as Christ on this Holy Night passed over (from the Jewish Passover) from death to life, so we, with Christ, pass over from death to new life.
It was only in complete kenosis, self-emptying on the cross, that Jesus opened himself to Infinity. This coming week, as many of us follow in the way of Jesus, may we empty ourselves fully so that we lose ourselves in order to find our True Self, so that our drop of water becomes part of the Ocean that is God, so that we, with Christ, can rise from our many patterns and ways of death, into the way of Infinite Resurrected Life.
This day may you see the Holy One in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Holy One to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright March 24, 2015
Photos: Georgia O’Keefe’s “Tree,” Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Vic at the Cloisters, NYC; Supermarket, NM; Linda in Box Canyon, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Vic at the Cloisters, NYC; Linda’s shadow, Glacier National Park; Linda at the Mediterranean Sea; Yellowstone National Park; Linda and Christ’s Tree, Utah; the Road to Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM; Paschal Candle, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM; Glacier National Park