empty space

Earlier this summer a friend sent me this aerial photo from Afghanistan.  It shows an empty space.  Years ago, folks carved a gigantic statue of the Buddha out of the rock of this mountain, and the statue (and others like it) stood silently through years of human history and all the good and bad that humans do.  In 2001, however, the Taliban decided the statues had to go, and dynamited them.  Thus the empty space.

imagine if someone did this to Mount Rushmore...

Aside from the issues of religious tolerance, human rights, and cultural preservation, this photo brings up a ton of questions for me about spirituality and religious expression.

First and foremost, don’t you feel a sense of grief when you look at this picture?  Regardless of your personal beliefs, does it not hurt to see evidence of humans trampling all over one another, and leaving open wounds in bodies as well as landscapes?

Second, this picture made me think about empty spaces I see in my own environment.  Some of them are tangible, like places that were flooded during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and never rebuilt.  Some of them are intangible, like the spiritual empty spaces I encounter as a pastor:  places in people’s lives where there is an unresolved loss, an unfilled longing, or even an open wound.  Sometimes as a pastor I get to see empty spaces that people have brought upon themselves.  When you get to those places you are in a type of sacred space (maybe you could call it a “decision space,”) such as Moses encountered at the burning bush.  The empty spaces call out for some kind of action, even if just to remain empty for a while.  I read somewhere that efforts are underway to re-sculpt the statues, but for now the empty spaces have a lot to say on their own.

Third, I think about my job that’s coming up in a few weeks, to create some kind of sacred space for college students as they begin a new academic year.  As always, I selfishly enjoy having a large group of students, and hope that God sees fit to send the students we contacted at orientation our way!  More than that, I am always in prayer at this time of year over how to juggle truth, tolerance, idolatry, and emptiness as I work with these great folks.

I’ve noticed along the way that some people choose one of these three options when working with college students:

1.  Present Christian faith as rock-solid, written in stone, unchanging as the mountains into which we carve statues. But that’s not telling the truth.  Indeed, God is solid, the rock on which we can build a foundation (see Matthew 7:24-27.)  Yet our relationship with God, as individuals and as a church, changes.  I think we can say with authority that faith is not the mountain, but that it can move one (see Matthew 17:20-21.)

2.  Tear down everything students have been taught, using intellectual dynamite if needed. This also strikes me as dishonest.  The world’s best ideas are products of a complex process that involves tinkering, debating, critiquing, researching, and sometimes even poaching.  Perhaps some students need to have a rigorous initiation into the practice of thinking as an adult.  But I haven’t met anyone yet who developed a strong intellect and solid moral character via intellectual annihilation.

3.  Don’t say anything, and let folks figure it out for themselves. Also not a good option.  After all, why are college students even in school, if not for some guidance on how to get a life?  And if professors or RA’s or campus ministers truly believe the students are putting their faith in the wrong things, how can they be silent?

So I’ve got a lot of space to work with.  What are you doing with yours?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: