In silence’s emptiness, an openness to receive

| Elizabeth Kelly | December 16, 2015 | 0 Comments
Elizabeth Kelly

Elizabeth Kelly

In my last reflection, I encouraged you to practice some silent prayer this Advent. You may have discovered by now that sometimes that’s a little tough. Maybe you miss the noise, some kind of stimulation. You miss your words, your routine, your rote prayer. When I remove myself from the whir of the world and am left with only myself and the Lord, all that silence can feel a little, well, empty.

But that may be the very gift God wants to give you.

The quirky English mystic Caryll Houselander writes in “The Reed of God” (1944) that we need to be careful of how we think about this emptiness.

“Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days,” she writes. “Those who complain . . . of the emptiness of their lives are usually afraid to allow space or silence or pause . . . . They dread space, for they want material things crowded together, so that there will always be something to lean on for support.”

Instead, Houselander ties the emptiness of which I speak specifically to the “virginal emptiness” of the Blessed Mother:

“[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 . . . to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in the 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.”

God seeks to fill emptiness

We could say the same about our attempts to sit in silence. Each attempt is not a void, a formless emptiness, but rather it has a shape and a form, a purpose for which it is intended. If we are willing to wait a while, God will reveal its shape and fill it with his purpose. This is the sort of emptiness that silence seeks.

Each of us possesses some manner of virginal emptiness like the Blessed Mother and it is the work of silence, of prayer without words, to discover it, to reveal it and to uncover what “sort of shape this emptiness in us is.”

Houselander writes, “From this we shall learn what sort of purpose God has for us. In what way are we to fulfill the work of giving Christ life in us? 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? These are only some of the possible forms of virginity; each person may find some quite different form, his own secret.”

Your silence, your emptiness has a form. Sit, wait for it, receive your own silent secret.

Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of five books, including “Reasons I Love Being Catholic.” She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith.

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Category: Advent