Monday, March 27, 2017

Holy Space

Where is that space in you?

Some call it the God-shaped hole or a God-shaped space. I simply know it to be the space. The space sitting in the deep part of our souls. The space that cannot be filled by outside things or relationships, although we try.

We desperately try. 

We think if we have the right partner/spouse, the job advancement, or live in the perfect neighborhood, the space will be filled. We hope if we keep ourselves busy with tasks, with buying more stuff, or with intellectual arguments, the space will disappear. We ignore it with a passion, and when it cannot be ignored anymore, we seek to numb it with our various addictions - alcohol and drugs are popular, but so are addictions to perfection and to accomplishments.

The space, as best I can understand, is that part of our souls where grief, loss, and fear reside. They are the fertile soil for compassion, mercy, and holy love, although we are convinced the space is nothing but deep emptiness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth and nothing else.

It the space where Job fell prostrate in ashes and sackcloth. The space welcomed Jeremiah in lament and silenced creation to listen to the tears Rachel. It is the valley of the shadow of death. Its boundaries enclosed Mary as she held the body of her son. The space held the dead Jesus until God resurrected him to New Life.

That space.

The space is the holiest of holies within our soul. We don’t casually stroll up to it, high-five it, and carry on. When we approach it, when we enter it, we do so with crushing humility. My experience is we almost never enter this space willingly. We avoid it and ignore it. We seek to fill it with all sorts of things in our lives. We blame others for its existence, and lash out in anger because they didn’t fix it. We harbor anger and refuse to forgive, because contrition, transformative forgiveness, and reconciliation will almost always involve us spending time in this space. 

We feel ashamed because this Holy Space, this Emmanuel God with Us space lives within us. Surely, we think, if we had right belief and right faith, this space would be filled with light and happiness.

Through the ages, Job, Jeremiah, Rachel, Mary, saints and angels remind us, “No.”  They share with us that space is holy space. It is the beginning of creation within our selves and souls and the ending verdict of love in the great judgment. 

As a priest, I’ve become less surprised by this space, my holy space. Don’t get me wrong, I, too, find myself alarmed when it takes up more of my soul than expected, when the grief and heartache that is life in ministry edges outward and re-exposes trauma and loss I was quite certain I’d processed. 

God reminds me love never ends, and our learning about love is never finished. So we sit in this space. 

Or God sits. I usually lie face down, quite certain I'll never arise. 

But I do, after weeping and gnashing of teeth (usually mine) and much profanity, I am transformed, surprised by the newness of love in Christ I've discovered. I have come to realize it is one of the few things that belongs wholly to me and God. That space does not get shared with others because others cannot fill it. This space is not the responsibility of others, because others did not create it. And others are not invited into this space. This space is the Holy of Holies where God and I meet in a profoundly transformative way, when I have the courage to enter this space…or I’ve wandered far enough to circle back to this space or fallen into it because I'm too tired to wander anymore. 

In this space I’ve covered myself in ashes and sackcloth. I’ve lamented with Rachel and held the brokenness of life. I’ve died and been resurrected. In this space, with God, I’ve experienced the transforming love of God.

Others can walk with us to the edge of the space, reminding us it exists, helping us put our hands and heart forward to feel its edges, but only God walks with us across the boundary. 

What if we have the desperate courage to enter this space where many, if not all, of the emotions and experiences of our lives and souls we want to orphan, ignore, and deny reside? 

What if we stop making others responsible for fixing this space in us?

What if, as we journey through the final weeks of Lent and enter the space of Holy Week, we acknowledged this space within us? What if we allow God to take our hand and guide us into this space or (more likely) push us into this space?

What if we wait in the silence of this space as God engages in resurrection?


2 comments:

A Voice in the Wilderness said...

There is a reason why people have conversion experiences speak of being, "inflated like a balloon." The Spirit flows into that space. I am a very progressive Episcopalian, about as removed as you can get from the Pentecostal or similar traditions, and I had an unexpected conversion experience during a Bible study in winter 1992. The Gospel of Mark has had a special place for me ever since, and I can still remember what it felt like to be inflated. I strive for the feeling whenever emptiness creeps in.

Jonathan Litzner said...

Thank you for this astute insight.