by Charisse Jensen
I have a new status, one which Facebook has yet to acknowledge: empty-nester! My husband and I recently arrived at this new status when our sons, ages 24 and 18, left our home or “nest” to strike out on their own.
Wikipedia defines empty-nest as a syndrome - a feeling of grief and loneliness that parents or guardians may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university. And this is my favorite part: “It is not a clinical condition.” I like that! I prefer to think of empty-nest-ism not so much as a condition, but rather, a space.
So I wonder about empty-nest syndrome, this empty space where we find ourselves. Is it a blessing or a curse? If in fact it is a blessing, Jon and I are beyond blessed! We are blessed with an empty space to park our cars in the garage, we are blessed with spacious refrigerator shelves to fill with food that does not require copious amounts of ketchup or BBQ sauce, and ......we are blessed beyond compare with a whole lot of silent living space in our home.
When considering this empty-nester blessing, I wonder if this non-medical syndrome can be a curse as well? What happens when there is too much space in homes, when there is too much silence between the walls, and our lives struggle to take on new shape and meaning? There are people that I know who have divorced soon after the last child has left home. Somehow, the emptying out of the nest creates a space that is inhospitable after the children have gone. Brokenness in relationship, that was probably there for a long time, but covered up by the distraction of the children, comes front and center. The emptiness becomes a curse and the space becomes too broken, too unrecognizable, and too loud with silence.
In my Narratives of Hope class with Dr. Kadi Billman, we spend a great deal of class time listening to each others stories and we talk about liminal space and about living in between spaces. We talk about listening space and remembering space, of poetic space and political space, and in particular, we speak about spaces that are both despairing and hopeful. As we listen to each other’s stories as experienced in our lives of ministry, we experience what Dr. Vitor Westhelle, calls choratic space.
Choratic space... meaning the space between spaces, is from the Greek; chora which means to lie open, ready to receive. This space, this choratic space is a crossing of sorts into what has been described by Dr. Billman in her article, Classroom and Choratic Spaces, as a holy place, a space to remember and recognize God’s presence.
So I wonder, can good news be found in empty spaces, in this space between spaces?
In Luke’s Gospel lesson today, Jesus is addressing a great crowd of his disciples quite literally: Even though you are poor now, yours is the kingdom of God and even though you are hungry, you will be filled; you who weep right now, you will laugh and you who are outcasts, you are blessed! Rejoice and leap for joy! Rest assured, your reward will be great in heaven.
But then......he Jesus speaks words of woe, prophetic words, words of the reality that there are and always have been folks in this world who enjoy a life that is seemingly full now with riches and food and laugher.... without any regard to those who are empty and hurting. Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Prophetic Imagination says that Jesus’ words in Luke’s passage express a new future, a reminder of the promises of God for the entire community......words that stir up compassion so that there is movement from oppressive despair and into a new space of amazing hope.
On that the level ground of the Plain, Jesus and his disciples occupy a choratic space, a holy space, a space filled with both blessedness and woe. Living into this space takes an incredible amount of encouragement in the midst of life’s difficult circumstances. The four blessings this passage, in contrast to the four woes, serve to encourage and admonish us to look to God and experience God’s presence in our lives and in our ministries. We are to set our hope on Christ, as Paul writes in Ephesians today, that we might live for the praise of Jesus, who provides us with a great hope and an eternal inheritance.
We are called by Christ to share in his life and in his ministry because of our baptism. In this wet blessing, we are commanded to live into the spaces of our lives that strengthen us and make whole lives for all of creation.
At the end of Jesus’ sermon, I imagine him sizing up the crowd, breathing in the same air, ready to deliver the final point ....waiting in the choratic space. And I imagine the crowd, sitting in stunned silence with convicted hearts as Jesus fills the space with these final, challenging words for holy living: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
When all people live in the center rather than at the margins... When the sick are provided for with affordable health care, when families are defined by their love of one another and not by their genetic makeup, when men and women with multiple layers of identity have meaningful employment, and the list goes on.....then we, as God’s siblings are not empty, but full, happy, blessed, rejoicing and leaping for joy!
So, I am learning day by day to live into my empty-nesting-ness. Even though some days it feels like a long-awaited blessing and some days an unexpected curse, I rest in the space, in the choratic space, believing in Jesus words, Jesus.....who levels the ground on which I stand and who rests there with me, living in joyful hope.