Saturday, September 7, 2013

Into The Hollow

The word “hollow” conjures up an image of a mystical valley with moss covered rocks under the cool shade of a forest canopy. Entering into the hollow there is a sense of peace yet at the same time of being exposed and at risk. What lurks behind the boulders and trees? Such a place of beauty can feel like a place of danger. Such a place of mystery can be irresistible.

Even when our lives are full of family, friends, work, and more; we often have a yearning for something that seems beyond our reach. That something is not always clear. We don’t always know what it is we are looking for. We just know that there is a gap within that somehow needs closing. The size of that space grows with no direct relationship to how happy we are in the rest our life. It can make us deeply disoriented even discontented. The world around us may seem full of potential but at the same time full of uncertainty. When we become aware of it we have entered into the hollow.

The founder of Quakerism, George Fox, described his own sense of emptiness as an “ocean of darkness” followed by an “ocean of light”. He was speaking of his own transformational experience when he personally came to know that “there was one Christ Jesus” who could speak to his condition. Many Christians describe this as being “saved” or “born again”. This transcendence is not limited to a Christian experience. It could be described as a personal awakening, or to being washed clean of worldly concerns revealing a higher purpose for one’s life.

Realizing they had a common experience of yearning, Fox and his friends began gathering together to seek God through worship and quiet reflection. Over the years since then, a common explanation by Quakers for the arrangement of meetinghouse benches has been the “hollow square”. The benches line the room in rows leaving an opening in the center. It is not just that we want a practical layout of the furniture where everyone can be both seen and heard. When we gather in silence to wait on Divine inspiration during our meetings for worship, we begin by entering a quiet vacant space. We are about to open ourselves up to the possibility of growing spiritually.

How we individually experience this is as wide and varied as the designs of snowflakes. Not knowing how it might turn out can be frightening. Yet, we merely need to invite Light in and we can be healed. Our lives can be forever changed. The result is to be challenged to actively commit ourselves to lives of integrity and Love. Quaker worship is one way among many to fill our vessels with the transforming power of God’s love. It is a place where we are invited to enter the hollow as a community. We do not face the hollow alone. We go there intentionally.

Experienced Friends advise newcomers that when we enter worship it is helpful to empty our minds of day to day thoughts. We do this “centering” to prepare ourselves to wait in silence to receive that of God through the ministry of other worshippers. We are invited to enter a hollow space both physically and spiritually. The silence itself is an emptiness uncluttered by distractions. This simple ritual is a faithful practice where we risk exposure to the unknown in the safe company of fellow travelers.

This form of worship teaches us how to seek all that life offers; to face our lives with calm confidence. The Quaker process of corporate discernment - the way we make decisions together - also helps us to understand how to enter the hollow as a friendly society, to face the troubles of our time together. Each time we gather to make decisions together we are testing our common ideals. Our meetings with attention to business are experiments in faith and openness. We are asked to empty ourselves of our expectations, our fears, our personal desires, and our temptations. We are challenged to actively serve that of God in our community.

Once emptied we carefully put into our corporate vessel our knowledge, our mutual respect, our trust, and our forbearance. This process can be a complicated spiritual discipline for a religious tradition which has a strong affinity for simplicity. But through a mysterious spiritual experience we attempt to create something practical and tangible. As we consider those matters before us we are charged with filling the hollow with acts of Love.

In our daily lives we are being called to do the same. The hollow fades from our awareness as we learn to embrace a life that is engaged, productive, and filled with acts of Love.

  • Are we willing to enter the hollow setting aside things like preconceived notions. pride, personal agendas, or suspicion?
  • Are we prepared to open our selves up to the power of the Light, to be transformed, and give ourselves over to a higher purpose?
  • How might we walk in that Light which transforms all our endeavors into acts of Love?

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