Spiritual Growth by Subtraction

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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So I was sitting there with the Quakers, kind of contemplating my life, kind of wondering what the future will bring. Time was ticking by slowly. I counted the boards on the wall. I listened to the creaking pews as Friends shifted their weight. A man cleared his throat. An elderly woman fiddled with a toy horse. I wondered why she brought it and what story was behind it. And then two phrases came to my mind. I almost think I heard them, but I don ‘t know. It was something between thinking and hearing. Meister Eckhart... and... Empty yourself.

My wife has a book of meditations by Meister Eckhart that she has kept on her nightstand for years. The back of this book says that Meister Eckhart, who died somewhere around 1329 A.D., was a mystic, prophet, feminist, philosopher, preacher, poet, genius, convicted heretic, and administrator. Administrator? Really? That seems a little out-of-place in that edgy list, but perhaps feminist heretics of the 14th century needed flowcharts. What do I know? Anyway, whatever else he did with his life, the Eck Meister wrote some amazing things. My favorite is this:

“What good is it if Mary was full of grace unless I am full of grace? And what good is it if Christ was born 2000 years ago, if he is not born in me, in my time, and in my culture?”

Yeah, that's pretty stout stuff, if you ask me. I've been thinking about that one meditation for about a decade, and I still haven't reached the bottom of it. But on this Sunday morning I remembered another thing that Meister Eckhart once wrote.

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.”

You and I could debate that statement, I guess, and perhaps there are plenty of exceptions. But I think as a general rule, it’s got the ring of truth. Especially for American Christians, who are probably too busy for their own good and for whom spirituality is often just another list of things to do. Suddenly I saw my life in a different way. I’ve been thinking of myself as MISSING things. MISSING a calling and NEEDING TO FIND another one. But is my life empty enough to hear from God? Is my life empty enough to have room for my next calling? I wondered what else God might want me to let go of. “Empty yourself.” That phrase kept ringing in my mind. I breathed deeply, in and out. Then I got my notebook and wrote this in it:

“Empty yourself of everything, every encumbrance, and I will show you what to do next.”

Gordon Atkinson

You might also like something I once wrote about Quakers. Photo by Ny0roko

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