Waiting in Emptiness

Through the kitchen window at Manna House, I see a man walking down the street. He pulls behind himself a tattered nylon rolling suitcase. It is crammed with his possessions. He had greeted me when I had arrived to open the gate ten minutes earlier. I was there early to start the coffee.

“Are you open?”

“Not until eight.”

“What time is it now?”

“Six forty-five.”

“I’ll be back.”

As I see him going away from Manna House, I remember a question Ed Loring of the Open Door Community in Atlanta asked many years ago. We spent twenty four hours on the streets with guests from the Open Door acting as our hosts. Ed had asked, “Where do you go when you’ve got nowhere to go?” I wonder, where is this man going? Will he come back?

Sometimes I have to simply sit with the emptiness I feel, and that I hear about and so often see in our guests. And in these days, emptiness seems prevalent. The landscape has turned stark. The daylight is shortened. There is a chill in the air. I look outside from the kitchen window at Manna House and see a lone shriveled leaf clinging to the end of slender tree branch.

When I get to Manna House at this hour to start the coffee, I have about forty five minutes to sit in the kitchen. I take the time to quietly wait, to listen to the coffee percolating, to read, write, and pray. These days of Advent are a particularly good time to sit with emptiness and to let it feed expectation.

I read of the “Saint of the Day” from Robert Ellsberg’s “All Saints.” Today was the feast of Walter Ciszek. He was a Jesuit priest who spent twenty three years in Soviet prisons. He had been swept up by Soviet troops at the end of World War II after entering Russia several years earlier to serve as a priest.

During his long years of imprisonment, which included many years in Siberia, he maintained a daily discipline of prayer. He also served as priest to other prisoners. He came to realize in this time of emptiness, “There was but a single vision, God, who was all in all; there was but one will that directed all things, God’s will. I had only to see it, to discern it in every circumstance in which I found myself, and let myself be ruled by it. God is in all things, sustains all things, directs all things. … I was freed thereby from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul.”

I turned to Psalm 130, praying with expectant emptiness, reflecting on Fr. Ciszek, on the man going down the street, on my own life.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord,

more than those who watch for the morning,

more than those who watch for the morning.

I saw at the end of the day the man who had left so early. He had returned. He got coffee and some fresh socks. He learned about Manna House. Then he was off again to somewhere. He may come back Thursday. I will have to wait and see.

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