Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in human likeness. ~ Philippians 2:6
I sit in the tattered maroon recliner that belonged to my mother and look out from my prayer room into our backyard. The early morning winter sunshine graces the bare branches of a Russian olive tree in our neighbor’s yard. The boughs of the aging tree unfold high above the makeshift fence which fails to separate us from our neighbor Kirk who wanted to cut down the tree, but Jennifer and I convinced him otherwise.+
A lone black bird, a crow or a raven, I don’t know which, sits in silent reverence within the tree. All is quiet and there is a peaceful emptiness which my heart desires. In the bleak of winter, our backyard lays in “solemn stillness.” Even the angels on high are silent but I know they are in the stillness. With the chaos of the world, “we need silence,” writes Catherine Doherty.
Jennifer and I had a good but hectic Christmas with four adult children and four dogs in our house. We crave the silent night, and they crave the music and the rhythms of the nightlife. We offered unsolicited advice to our twentysomething adult children, and they offered their advice to us. I am sure when I was a young adult I had these conversations with my parents, but time has erased the tense memories like water flowing over a rock, slowly smoothing away the hard surfaces.
Only the invitational warmth of silence remains. Thank God for that. “True silence is our search for God,” says Doherty. I look again at the barren tree, slumbering in the winter cold, and I feel strangely at home.
With the passing of another Christmas, I can say, “I am full. Stuffed. I did it again.” Wonderful fruit pies, slabs of rib-eyed roast, mountains of mashed potatoes with brown gravy, loaves of fresh bread covered in butter and honey, and homemade chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven. I enjoyed every morsel until my overly full stomach told me otherwise.
What are we full of after Christmas?
As I look out the back window of our house at the Russian olive tree unclothed and standing still, why does it seem so attractive? So peaceful, so content, so at home? What does it mean for us to be full of the Spirit of God? Does the bare tree know?
Doherty writes, “We become wise when we become empty.” This is so counter-intuitive; I and maybe you, crave more and more. Do we ever have enough? Are we ever fully satisfied?
“Becoming ‘full’ of all the information in the world does not of itself accumulate into wisdom. Rather Wisdom is a different way of seeing and knowing. Nothing new—no perspective, no experience, nor even love can come to us when we are full of ourselves, our agendas, and our own points of view,” writes Rohr.
Jesus empties himself. What do we need to let go of?
“We empty ourselves to let the divine flood us with love. We are empty so we may be full,” says Beverly Lanzetta. “Self-emptying is critical to any kind of authentic spirituality.”
What are we full of? Are we so full of God’s grace, peace, and compassion that it just oozes out of us like sap from a tree? Or are we full of ourselves, our egos, and our need to be right?
Kenosis, the Greek work for self-emptying, compels us to let go of our ego, wants, and demands. But I like to hang on to my thoughts and opinions, especially when “I know I am right.” My disagreement with our twentysomething adult children bared no fruit except an invitation to introspection and reflection.
“True emptiness is also an openness of being. It is an ongoing receptivity to the wonder of life,” writes Rohr. I admire the bare Russian olive tree outside our back window. Every autumn it freely lets its leaves fall, and the tree trusts that spring will fill it with green life again. “We can let go, when we trust that we will be filled up again,” says Rohr.
Through contemplative prayer we receive Christ’s love, and we begin letting go of our ego. We learn to trust the continuous flow of Grace through our lives and our world. By the Grace of God, may we let go and let God. Amen.
Blessings and peace,