Making Soul Space
I was invited inside the home of a hoarder once. The invitation was extended by a kind woman, but a few steps into her living room I knew I could not stay. The smell nearly overtook me. Cat urine permeated the air, rising up from the gold carpet that must have been thirty years old. I silently prayed God would not let me wretch in front of her as I made my way to the restroom in shock. The piles. The filth. I’d seen this on TV, but I had I’d never experienced it in person. The paradox of her invitation, offering me a restroom break and even a meal, was glaring. There was nowhere to sit in her house, chairs piled high with papers and old magazines. The kitchen counters were covered in a layer of grime; I couldn’t imagine anyone preparing food there. Her words were hospitable, but her home told another story. There was no space to receive what she offered.
The memory of those few minutes in that house has stayed with me for a long time. After all these years, I’m left with the thought that receptivity requires space.
The invitation to Presence is always there for me, but my life often looks like that house I visited. There is no space to welcome God. To make space requires emptying - white space on the calendar, driving without podcast or cooking without HGTV in the background, sitting completely still for a few minutes without a book in my lap, decluttering a closet or a drawer and throwing things out that don’t fit or work anymore, waiting until I’m physically hungry before eating the next meal. They all can be difficult for me because I dread and fear how emptiness feels. I tend to keep filling things up - the spaces I live in, my body, my schedule, my air space, my closet. Yet every time I’ve cleared out a closet or fasted a meal or unloaded the dishwasher in complete silence, I’ve noticed how good it was. I’ve received something from the stillness, the silence and the space.
While I dealt with my burned hand which I wrote about last post, I also visited someone in the hospital, attended a funeral, hosted two different houseguests and prepared for a holiday weekend with family and friends. I look back at my journal during that week and see words like “too much”, “full”, and “too many…” I need to read my own signs! The warnings were all there. The smallest things felt difficult that week: deciding on menus, making grocery lists, shopping and preparing the house, writing a blog… I went from one thing to the next without “breathing space” in between. When you don’t breathe you get toxic in a hurry. Without breath, we die.
Two things happened the following weekend that should have been blips on the screen but instead hit me hard: one was a bad dream that woke me up at dawn, the other was hearing about a potentially frightening incident that happened to a neighbor. I heard about it - did not experience it - yet my reaction was one of anger and fear. “I want to move,” I told my husband, “I want to get out of this city.” When I think back over my reactions, I see now that fullness, a crowded, noisy few weeks, contributed to my spiraling emotions. I made no space to rest, recover, and gain strength. I didn’t love those last few guests well (unfortunately they are my closest family; isn’t that always how it is?) because I had little to offer. I had little to offer because I had left no space to receive for myself. I refused the emptiness, the breathing room, the spaciousness so critical to awareness of living life in God’s presence.
This is why we go to the rail and lift our hands like beggars. Seeing my own cupped hands reminds me I am fragile and finite; but there is a place, a space where there is room for me, a table where I am invited and fed. I remember my need, the importance of feeling my own emptiness, and I receive His life. Then I have something to give again.
Like hurry, a crowded, over-filled life is the enemy of a satisfied soul. Maybe harder than slowing down is opening the heart’s door, clearing soul clutter out, and creating unoccupied space where the breeze of the Spirit can blow in some fresh air.