FirstDay Sermon: Should You Be Empty?

A lot of meditation teachers talk about the practice of “emptying” yourself when you sit down to pray.

A word about prayer vs. meditation. These two are pretty much the same. Prayer tends to be something we do with words, while we think of meditation as silence. But I’ve done some meditation in kundalini yoga that requires repeating a mantra out loud over and over again (like Catholics do with the rosary), and that shit gets you in the same space as silence, because it gives you a focal point, it helps your mind quiet down. And once, I sat in a church in Venice and listened to these women praying in unison in Italian, over and over, over and over, and I was floored by their patience, by the fortitude it took to get through all of that. I was really into it for a while, closing my eyes and settling in, and I made a commitment to stay until they were done. But at one point I opened my eyes pretty wide at Jesus, saying, Can you believe this? I mean, they just didn’t stop. They had a muscle for out-loud prayer I just don’t have. I left that church pretty humbled. And they were no doubt empty at the end of all that, because anything ugly must have come out in those long, vowel-heavy words, cleansing them and the people around them from within.

So perhaps I have an ego problem that makes it hard for me to want to “empty” myself before God. I look at God and I say, Well why did you make me this way if you want me to be empty?

So I keep trying to find my way into this idea, because I see it everywhere I turn. And the example I have, I suppose, is the kind of experience I have at Quaker meeting. The way Quakers work is that we sit in silent worship and talk to God inwardly (at least I do) and try to release all that we’ve been holding that is getting in the way of being the truest, purest form of ourselves. And with that effort, and the silent support of everyone in the room, we make ourselves available to the Holy Spirit, who may activate someone to speak a message that is usually beneficial for all.

Does the term “Holy Spirit” make you shutter? We need new words. But I don’t know how else to describe her. Except to think of Holy not in terms of unsexual and unsensual (which is what that messed-up old-timey church made us all think), but instead of Whole—as in, representing the best in us, our Whole Selves. All of it.

Quakers, like many traditions, acknowledge that there is a spark of the divine within every person. We know that we have a flicker in us that represents the largeness and vastness of The Big One. When we put aside all of our ideas and neurotic thinking, we can plug ourselves into the Divine Healing Outlet and suddenly we’re no longer just a pretty little thing, but we’re a fucking well-lit lamp that’s really useful! So when we sit on Sundays and practice that opening up, that calming down, we finally have space for the Holy Spirit to grant us with her graces. And we never know what we’re going to get. You know, kind of like life.

What empty really means—and I’m still looking for better words—is that we get clean of the stupid shit we’ve been carrying around. We lighten the load. We stop lugging all these bags and instead settle on a nice neat little wallet that makes us freer. Because we’re like these beautiful, intricate urns, but we collect a lot of dust and a lot of loose change and paper clips and stupid plastic toys from drive-ins. We’re still the urn, but we can’t see all the gorgeousness of ourselves, because that other superficial crap is taking up space. So when we sit in silence or we pray out loud and we clean it all out, throw it all up, wipe it with a sponge, we’re just like, ahhhhhhh. Like slipping into a bath (if you like baths). You say, This is just what I needed. And then the light hits us in such a way that we get to see all the beauty in ourselves again. We have hope. And maybe we fill ourselves with some ripe, red apples instead of loose marbles.

Is any of this making sense?

We have access to God, in every minute of every day. God is always, always present and ready and willing to meet us wherever we are. God is the realest thing of any real thing. You just have to make a decision about how blind you want to go through life. You can squint your whole life, not really seeing things clearly, moving your hands in general directions to get you from place to place. Lots of people live like that. Grasping, groping, getting turned in this direction and that. (Kind of like me trying to use my phone’s GPS.) Or you can have eye surgery and start to see the crispness and completeness of the whole fucking world. And you’re like, This is amazing! Why did it take me so long? I can finally see! 

I may have had too much coffee today.


“Urn”by Adrian Midgley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Categories: spirituality and faith

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