Blessing That Becomes Empty

In the EmptyingImage: In the Emptying © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Year A, Proper 21/Ordinary 26/Pentecost +16: Philippians 2.1-13

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though
he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.

– Philippians 2.5-7a

The hollowing began the moment Gary died. In the weeks that followed, it came as a physical sensation: in the center of my chest, an emptying nearly tangible, a hollowing out of the heart and of the life I had known.

Last week I visited with a friend of mine whose husband died a year and a half before Gary. We spoke of the hollowing. We talked about how there is nothing that will ever fix the emptiness. And we spoke, too, of how the emptiness can become a space that, in one of the mysteries of grief, leaves us more and more open to the receiving of joy.

The hollowing happens. Life will empty us out, whether we will it or not. Yet Paul reminds us this week that we belong to the Christ who freely chose to empty himself: who gave himself completely in a way that, paradoxically, did not diminish him but helped to reveal the fullness of who he was, and is. Encompassed by the Christ who enfolds our emptiness in his own, we become free to choose how we will respond to the emptying. In the emptying that naturally happens in life, as well as in the emptying Christ asks us to seek out and embrace, how will we allow the hollowing to open our hearts to the world we are called to serve in joy and in love?

This is a blessing I wrote during a Lenten season in which part of this passage from Philippians was among the lectionary readings. As you attend to the empty spaces—in your life and in the world—may those spaces open wide to the joy that comes.

Blessing That Becomes Empty
As It Goes

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

Today,
it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way.


For a reflection on this week’s Gospel reading, click the image or link below.

Where God Grows
Where God Grows

Looking ahead…

If you’re planning for World Communion Sunday (October 5), I invite you to visit the post below, which includes my blessing in celebration of the day.

The Best Supper
And the Table Will Be Wide

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “In the Emptying,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

6 Responses to “Blessing That Becomes Empty”

  1. Maureen Says:

    Beautifully written, Jan.

    That something that is letting go is the pain that attends great loss; we push it down deep, not to forget but to be able to go on. Blessings to you.

  2. Susan Heffron hajec Says:

    Thank you, Jan.
    I have come and I sit in this place you have shown is made holy
    by its hollows. Thank you, I shall not flee.

    Also thank you, Jan for “Where Two, Where Three” the poem, with credits given to you, is being placed on a bookmark which will attract new pray-ers to a new Prayer Place to pray for the intentions of young mothers in need of financial, moral, and faith support. It is just so perfect, we, the co-creators of the space, nearly wept with joy.

  3. claire Says:

    Thank you for the beautiful gift this blessing is.
    xoxo

  4. Lynda Says:

    The first paragraph speaks so directly to the way I felt twelve years ago when my husband decided to leave the marriage. For me it was sudden but I expect it had been in his mind for a while. Healing came slowly but God was always there in the pain and in the joy that has been brought back into my life. I am still alone and yet I’m not for God is here and God has provided an amazing life that I would never have imagined possible – your beautiful blessing speaks to the new life that has come to me.

    Blessings and prayers.

  5. Jim McWhinnie Says:

    Today I write about the words of Jesus, “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.” I am not all that sure what “comfort” means … but, Jan, your words and even more your spirit … brings comfort to my soul.

    May the gentle peace be with us all.

  6. Michele Van Son Says:

    To finding joy in the emptiness.
    Love to you. Safe journey.
    Until the next pot of tea-
    MVS

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