A Shell Dishabited
The rumble of thunder reverberates off the foothills. Damp pine scent laces the air. A trio of squirrels seek refuge in the spruce that touches the sky with its tip-top branches. This is the stillness of the very first Summer Saturday–my day of solitude and sleep, of caramel-filled chocolate and endless mugs of PG Tips. It is a fairy sort of daylight, ripe for reading Phantastes or Lord of the Rings. I can see sunlight slanting through the clouds, glancing off the whiskers of one of those squirrels. His dew-bright eyes are full of curiosity and mischief.
O me! That I get to live in this world, to see with my two green iris eyes the wonders of this day. To sniff up the fresh sweetness of the earthy pines. To hear the chirrup of birds, the clash between thunder and lightning, and the drip-drip-drop of the rain-song. I am given the gift of a cool breath of air, kissing my neck, swirling my hair. It is all balm for my soul after a labour-intensive week at work, after hard news. How can anything post-Fall still ring of Truth and Beauty? But it does. How can the creation still shout of God’s glory when lives are sticky, shattered, crumpled messes? Yet it does!
My aching limbs are full of tired. My soul is searing-hot with pain of a different sort, for a loved one, and another, and still more. My prayers climb to the heavens, fly beyond the clouds to the ever-listening ears of the Father. No longer is weariness confined to muscles, it sinks its shaft far into my very being. Prayer presses deeper the helpless feeling, the weakness I walk daily. I feel emptier still… Then the rain comes. Splattering on the shingles, splashing on the glossy green leaves. The rain flows down to the thirsty earth, giving itself with joy. The droplets sink lower and lower still, into the dark red earth, into the deep fir roots. Those pines reach higher to brush the skies. The higher cannot stand without the lower,1whispers each drop. The higher cannot stand without the lower! sings the spicy fragrance of pine needles, wafting upward. The dark clouds empty themselves of rain, that the dusty earth might be refreshed again.
Is that it, Lord? my heart queries. Must You empty me of all of me, so that I might be full of only You? And once I am full of You, will You pour Yourself out on others? Empty. Full. Cracked and broken to spill out the kindness of God, lavishly gifted to me. I cannot hold it in, like the rainclouds cannot hold the rain. I cannot keep it to myself, like a stagnant pool. God’s loving-kindness is poured out on undeserving me. To keep it from stagnation, it must flow out from me to others. It is not earned, it is given with joy. It cannot be kept, it cascades down in delight.
A poem comes to mind about this ebb and flow, emptying to fill. It reminds me that if I am replete with myself, there is no room for God to fill me, no place for Him to overflow in my life:
If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,
And say, ‘This is not dead’, And fill thee with Himself instead.
But thou art all replete with very thou
And hast such shrewd activity,
That when He comes, He says, ‘This is enow
Unto itself – ’twere better let it be,
It is so small and full, there is no room for me.’ 2
What if the thunder, full of itself, did not roar the echo of power from the Creator? What if birds decided to sing their own dissonant song, unable to communicate with others of their kind? What if squirrels ceased being squirrelly? And what if the ground decided it was too full of tree roots and the firs came crashing down? If nature began to do as it pleased, rather than abiding by God-given instincts, chaos would ensue. So what do I expect to happen if I am replete with very me? Can God fill me with His loving-kindness if I am already full of self? Will I be able to shower others with His goodness if I cannot receive it? Certainly not! I must be empty so that He can fill me. God pays me –pays all of His children– the great compliment of accomplishing His will and work through me –through us– if we will let Him.
I want to be like the rain falling deep into earth’s heart; to be a shell dishabited. Sinking low to make others grow tall. Overflowing. Empty. Ready to be filled, to let my life be the sweet aroma of Christ in me, the Hope of glory.3
- á Kempis, Thomas, The Imitation of Christ: Being Thankful for God’s Grace
- Browne, Sir Thomas , If Thou Could’st Empty All Thyself of Self
- Colossians 1:27 (NKJV)