Running on Empty

hollowed out natural bridges

I don’t know about you, but for me, I’m running on empty spiritually. Here we are, half-way through Holy Week, and I’m feeling spent. As with most Lenten seasons, I start out with the best of intentions. I no longer use Lent as a time to lose weight or walk more as a discipline. I try, instead, to revive a spiritual practice or take on a new one that will feed my soul. This year, I vowed to read two daily on-line Lenten devotionals and do an evening prayer assisted by an app. That seemed far weightier, so to speak, than my usual discipline of foregoing Peeps bunnies or an evening glass of red wine until Easter Sunday.

But now, I’m at a point where it even seems too much to read those devotions or pray an app-guided prayer. I’ve been thinking of the 1970’s song by Jackson Browne, “Running on Empty.” While he never seemed to actually crash and burn, that song proclaims of being nearly out of fuel and having no energy left. This is not the “dark night of the soul” as described by St. John of the Cross; this is simply being empty, having no energy left and feeling tired to the bone.

From the mid 1990’s until 2010, I worked at Georgetown University. As a Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher education, Georgetown was concerned not only about the spiritual life of its students but also of its faculty and staff. Whether on the Main, Medical or Law Campuses, there were chaplains available to everyone. The spiritual programs addressed the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious backgrounds that community members brought with them.

In 2007 – 2008, I participated in a year-long program based on Ignatian spirituality. St. Ignatius, who died in the mid 1500’s and was the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), had lived a rather profligate life. After an injury that nearly took his life and forced him to recuperate for a long time, he reformed his ways and realized that without God, he was lost. As a part of the life of the Jesuit community, he established the Spiritual Exercises that were, and still are, intended, in part, to make God more real, more tangible, and accessible.

As a part of the Spiritual Exercises, one forms a closer relationship with Jesus through prayer, reading of Scripture and other writings, spiritual practices, and the use of one’s imagination to accompany Christ through his life on earth. A small book, “Hearts on Fire” (Institute of Jesuit Sources, St. Louis 1993) contains a number of poems written by Jesuits that can be read as one proceeds through the Spiritual Exercises.

“A Hollowed Space to be Filled” was written by William Breault, S.J., and is intended to be used as one contemplates Holy Week:

A cup must be empty before it can be filled again.
It if is already full, it can’t be filled again
except by emptying it out.
In order to fill anything, there must be
a hollowed-out space.
Otherwise it can’t receive.

This is especially true of God’s word.
In order to receive it, we must be hollowed out.
We must be capable of receiving it,
Emptied of the false self and its endless demands.

When Christ came, there was no room in the inn.
It was full. The inn is a symbol of the heart.
God’s word, Christ, can take root only in a hollow.

William Breault, S.J.

At first, placing this poem in the section on Holy Week seemed incorrect. Why wasn’t it in the section in which Christ’s birth and early ministry were pondered? But the more I’ve thought about it, I am better able to understand why this is a poem for this week. At Christmas, we are filled with joy. We receive with gladness the gift of the Christ Child. We rejoice with family and friends. Unless we have suffered a loss, we do not want to deal with the painful, more difficult aspects of life.

And now, here we are. We’ve been through a year of disruption and isolation and loss. Although there is the promise of spring and new life and hope, we are not there yet. I couldn’t even make it through forty days of a Lenten discipline. I’m drained and tired to the bone. Instead of receiving, I feel that I have been drained.

And yet – this may just be where I need to be. Empty. Hollowed out. Instead of getting on myself for not completing a Lenten discipline, it may be better to simply acknowledge that fact and consider why that may be so. I need to acknowledge that I’m running low and need to turn to God to once again be amazed by God’s everlasting kindness for each of us as shown in the life and death of Christ. I need to be ready to let God’s Word of Love take root in my hollowed heart and then let that Word of Love live through me to others. Perhaps running on empty is not so bad after all.

Prayer...

Dear Lord, we once again come before you. We are weary but our weariness is nothing compared to the love that You have for each of your beloved children. As we walk with Christ this Holy Week, let us be open to having our hollowed-out hearts be filled with You. Amen.

Kathryn Baerwald

Kathryn Baerwald

Member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Boise ID

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Connie Seymour

    I think many people are feeling drained as you are. You put it all into words for the rest of us.

  2. Jim Grunow

    Thanks, Kathryn, for being so vulnerable in this devotional. When you tell us, “I’m running on empty spirtually,” you are honoring us with a very personal part of yourself. So again, thank you. As I reflect on Mark’s Passion Account, your “running on empty” reminds me of the one running on empty at that cross–“My God, my God. . . You are in good company, Kathryn.

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