In the last few months, I felt that I was drowning in paper. There were heaps of it on my dining room table, piles on my file cabinet and even (to my shame) tucked into a closet. At work, nobody had seen the surface of my desk in months. I kept pushing it away from the keyboard so that I could have a small space to type and to work on whatever was most pressing that day. My mailbox had a stack five inches thick. The stuff was crowding in, threatening to choke the life out of me, and if any of it cascaded, I was in serious danger of being buried alive.
(Yes, this is a true confession. And, no, it ain’t pretty. Sorry to disappoint you. People who write spiritual blogs are supposed to have their act together better than this.)
Today, those heaps are all gone. I have spent the better part of two days sorting and culling, throwing out and filing. And what I have realized is that, if I want to keep things clean and beautiful, I will need to reconcile myself with my own finitude. I will not be able to attend every interesting lecture that is advertised to me. I will not be able to participate in each conversation or task force. I will not get around to finishing the articles in that magazine that only sort of catch my interest, or to learn about every organization that might, possibly, be a good connection for my parish. I am only one person, and I cannot do everything. Not even everything that I think would be good.
I am speaking, of course, of setting priorities: using the time I have been given on the handful of things that are most essential to my work, or sharing it with the people who really set my spirit ablaze.
When Jesus first preached in his hometown, he spoke of this same issue, in words that did not please his hearers at all: The truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27) . This was Jesus, the God-man who lived in an eternity without limits, facing into what could be done on earth: one thing at a time, one person healed, one branch snatched from the burning.
But this space, this clearing out, is also the ground of creativity; it is the way we make a place for something new to be born. The Kabbalah, which is the Jewish tradition of mysticism, teaches that when God desired to create the universe, God needed to make a space for it, for something that was not Godself. And so God withdrew from a portion of infinity, and there God created time and stars and space and life. Genesis teaches us, At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness over the face of Ocean, rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters — God said, “Let there be light!” (Gen 1-3, Shocken translation) Out of chaos, emptiness, waste, God breathes new life — into the world, into us.
And into our churches and communities. No one collection of people can do everything, any more than one person can. We cannot even do well what we do merely by rote. That is why we must always be testing our work, seeing where we are really coming alive, and where we might be sleep-walking. Always, the Spirit, leads us on, to what is new, what is necessary, what gives life. Curtis Almquist reminds us, “Wherever we bury Jesus, he comes back to life. We can bury him in the Bible or in stained glass windows, in creeds and formulas and the heritage of our own tradition, in movies and plays and music, in our past. We can even bury him in bread and wine. And each time from each place he rises from the dead. He shed the words and images and walks right on out into the world.” And so a small voice cries out always, “Make space for the Lord of Hosts! Make space for the Giver of Life! Make space! Make space!”
O Holy Spirit, by whose breath, life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire; come kindle in our hearts your fire.