The Space Within


Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ, 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


This week someone showed me a beautiful wooden bowl that they had been given.  It was one of those bowls that purposefully is not completely finished.  You could still trace the slender trunk of the tree out of which it had been carved so that holding it you felt close to its source.  It was completely smooth on the outside and very deep and rounded within.  As I took it into my hands I felt a little jerk of response within myself.  It was a joy to hold, my own hands cupped the empty cup and as I held it and looked at it I thought, here is something on which one could meditate for hours.

Three things struck me immediately: the sheer pleasure of the wood, honed and smooth but also the way it made me open my hands to receive; the relatively speaking great space within the bowl, empty, waiting to be filled; and my reaction, that somehow this physical presence in my hands had awoken a spiritual response in me, somehow opening me up, creating in me a parallel, waiting space.

Many years ago I read a Zen Buddhist saying about the space inside a vase being more important than the vase.  If the purpose of a vase is to hold flowers, it would be pretty useless without the space.  One could argue (rightly) that the shape of a vase makes a difference to the way the flowers look within it, but actually anything can be made to hold flowers and as long as the flowers are pretty and arranged well, we respond with delight.  (We have at Launde some old tins, painted white, which hold flowers and look quite delightful on our tables in the courtyard.)

But of course interior space is what we all need to achieve if we are to hear the voice of God.  If we want to hear God speak, rather than all the other voices in our heads we have to find a way of hushing them.  Jesus himself and the great saints from John the Baptist onwards (“I must grow less so that he may grow more”) knew that we are invited to empty ourselves so that God may fill us and Jesus modelled this for us with his whole life.  Over and over again he said it was not him but God in him that he was expressing in thought word and deed.  We need to empty ourselves of the delusion of an identity separate from God, of the illusion that we make ourselves, and instead seek daily to be created and recreated by our Maker.

The spiritual writer, Joyce Rupp, wrote a whole book on spiritual growth, “The Cup of Life” using an ordinary teacup or mug as her starting point for meditation.  She wrote,

“Hold the empty cup in your hands. Look at all the room the cup has for filling. Picture the inner part of yourself. Notice how much room there is for filling. Hold the cup out before you in the gesture of a beggar. Ask God to fill you.”