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Spaces for thought.
By Trish Patrick in Sermons
the importance of making spaces to live and think is exploredAt Open Ed. last week we watched a beautiful film about Japanese gardens. Apart from its visual beauty, the narrator discussed the inspiration for the different types of gardens, and their contemplative function in the lives of the Japanese people. Every tree, plant, flower, moss, rock and pebble is consciously chosen and lovingly placed in position by the gardener who is highly attuned to his or her consciousness. Great thought and care is lavished on the garden's design both at the micro and macro level.
The same thoughtful care is given to form, simplicity and elegance in their art of Ikebana or flower arrangement.
In garden design and flower arrangement, in all manner of contexts, the Japanese concept of Ma is of huge significance. Roughly translated it means space, form, or interval between two structural parts. This space or interval being just as important as the structures defining it. This space, emptiness or selflessness comes from a Buddhist and Shinto idea. In the west, we mostly perceive space as emptiness, but in the east, spaces have meanings; space shapes relationships, possibilities and interactions.
In music, the spaces between the notes create unique harmonies and rhythms. In writing, spaces between the words facilitate reading and comprehension. (I believe it was the Irish who first thought of putting spaces between words.) Punctuation gives pause for clarity and drama. In the spoken word, the pause is vital for conveying meaning, gravitas and humour.
Someone once wrote;
...pots are formed of clay, though the space inside them is the essence of the pot; walls with windows and doors form the house, though the space within them is the essence of the house. I used to love setting up the venue when organising a retreat. How the space looked and felt was a crucial part of the whole experience. It didn't matter what the place itself was like, the important thing was what was, or was not, put in the space. Less always better than more. The notion of emptiness is part of our faith tradition too. Monasteries, convents and other Christian communities require the emptying of one's self as a release from the unnecessary trappings of daily life, hence vows of poverty, and in some Orders, the rule of silence.
In our own church I've heard the minister pronounce a 'space of silence' as we are invited to reflect on or pray about something or someone. Meditation is a vital part of our faith although often a challenge to achieve because spaces of silence and emptiness can be a bit scary, both at a personal level and collectively. I recall a minister years ago preaching about the dangers of meditating. He saw it as an invitation for Satan to fill the space with treacherous and ungodly thoughts. For him it was Satan's tool to be avoided. However, Psalm 19:14 reads 'May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight...' Philippians 4: 8 compels us to meditate on anything that is praiseworthy or of virtue.
Spaces of silence and emptiness are to be treasured for they are full of promise and possibility. Spaces where the mystery that is God can break through and touch us in ways that will surprise and delight.