It’s Lent and I’m thinking about emptying. In certain Eastern traditions and in Zen Buddhism there is a traditional fifth element of creation besides earth, air, water, fire – the element of emptiness or “sunyata” in Zen Buddhism. It’s hard to put words to what is “nothingness” but I have heard others describe it as “the void which is the creative energy of the world.” I’ve heard it described as the calm deep down in the ocean, below the waves and wind that are always doing what waves and wind do – rolling and blowing.
I have trouble putting words to it myself, but maybe like you, I know emptiness when I experience it. It’s that something that can feel like presence, opening, releasing and resting that has been attracting Westerners to meditation and yoga. That something we feel when we are absorbed in a simple activity and everything else recedes a bit and we are just in the here and now.
I’ve been practicing emptiness this Lent by cleaning out my closets. In a just a couple of months is our church’s annual giant rummage sale called Superfluity. Every year we are invited to clean out our closets and bring those items that we no longer have use for, those beloved things that we at last need to let go of, and to let them be transformed in the magic of Superfluity where they will be put into the hands of those who will delight in them again and something like $30,000 will be raised for all sorts of good work around our community. It’s a huge effort. Some 200 volunteers are already at work helping to get ready for the sale.
I’m doing my small part by cleaning out my closets and reading Marie Kondo. Kondo is the bestselling author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and has become an international phenomenon with her techniques for cleaning things out and making room for more joy.
What’s surprised me about the book is that it’s a lot more than a guide to how to sort through your belongings and organize your drawers. Instead, she uses the practice of tidying to talk about making room not only for the stuff we treasure, but more importantly, for our souls. Working through our physical spaces creates soul space. It truly is one of the best “spiritual” guides I’ve read in a long time as she leads us through processing the past, letting go of what needs to be, and making room to live in the here and now.
Kondo believes that making room doesn’t begin with attacking a closet and getting rid of things. Instead, she counsels that you need to begin with a vision of the kind of space you want and be clear about why you want it. Maybe you would like a space that feels more restful, peaceful. Whatever it is, it’s making room for something that you want more of in your life.
Last week, Margaret Irribarra Swanson, our Youth Ministries Director, sent out a letter to our youth and their families about the season of Lent. She wrote, “The popular practice of giving up something for Lent really has nothing to do with exercising self-control. Rather, it is a way to make space in our regular routines to allow God to do something new in our lives.”
Sometimes, I am desperate for that newness to come. Sometimes, I’d rather not have anything change.
I don’t know what that newness might be or where it might lead. I hear the stories of a God who empties tombs and gives new life in unexpected, unforeseen ways. So, I’m cleaning closets and soul space as well. I look forward to gifting Superfluity with lots of treasures. And to risk clearing some space in my life and soul – with a little fear and trembling, a little wonder and hope – for the newness of God to bloom.