Saturday, March 6, 2010


A few weeks ago one of my directees looked at the sign laying beside the empty bowl on my Lenten altar with a perplexed look on her face. The sign says, "Free to be Nothing." It is the name of the spiritual reading book I've chosen for Lent and it is written by Ed Farrell. It's an old book--not even in print any more and yes, the title sounds somewhat bleak and uninviting. However, if one peers more deeply into the meaning it isn't as austere as it sounds. It may even be liberating.

I believe the author borrowed the title from Mother Teresa who says that when you are free to be nothing, God can do anything and everything in you. For me it means that I don't have an agenda set in stone. I'm flexible and open for continuing creation. Rather than being a sealed-up space, I am a breathing space for God. Everything about me sings out, Welcome! I am free to be nothing and thus I am free to be everything. A Holy Paradox! Perhaps this is what the poet Rilke is trying to express in this poem


Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you
Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you.
And without feet I can make my way to you,
without a mouth I can swear your name.

Break off my arms, I'll take hold of you
with my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, my brain will begin to beat
and if you consume my brain with fire
I'll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.

Praying with the poem I found myself asking, Would the beloved do all this to me and expect me to still be the beloved? However, having allowed the poem to become my dwelling place for a few days, I now see it as a metaphorical icon of the terrible beauty of extravagant love—so extravagant that the lover is free to be nothing for the Beloved. Then, too, I have to remember it a poet speaking. Poets often speak in riddles even to the point of a sacred exaggeration that gives birth to a beautifully wild truth. The truth here seems to be the freedom that comes from a prodigal/wasteful/extravagant love. It is the freedom of belonging to Someone—not in a doormat kind of way—but by way of a liberating/passionate leap in the dark.


  1. Ah, Macrina, may your empty bowl lead you to the liberating truth of the poem.

    I have found that this Lent, which feels like my first Lent ever, I am asked to leave everything at the edge of the desert before I can walk toward the Beloved. I have not come yet to the senses and my body itself. But whatever I hold dear or burdensome is to be set on the ground...

    At any rate, yes, I do find your post today liberating. And more.

    Thank you.

  2. How wonderful!
    So much to pray about and linger over.
    I constantly fight setting up my own "Too Busy" I struggle to learn just to BE!

  3. I love the thought: "Rather than being a sealed-up space, I am a breathing space for God." I am going to carry this with me for the next few days and pray to be a breathing space for God! Thanks.

  4. I love the thought of praying with that fine Rilke poem as the springboard. It should help lead us away from hungry narcisism to a more peaceful, centered state of being.

  5. i've always read rilke's poem as if rilke is speaking this to god, but today i wondered if it's not the other way around. are not these the things we've done to god in christ, and yet god goes on loving. it reminded me of margaret wise brown's, "the runaway bunny." (if you...then i will become)