the struggle against nothingness

A conversation with Heather the other day reminded me of these lines from my journal eight years ago. They seem appropriate for this time now, entering the quiet winter months, not knowing what retreat work we will have (though an advent retreat is looking possible at the moment):

We dread the emptiness of time. Because with no distraction, we become conscious of ourselves as is, not in relation to other things but isolated, alone. Or rather in relation to God, from whom we are never isolated. This results in a consciousness of sin, guilt, negation. But that could all be collected under the heading of nothingness. And our fear of nothingness is fundamental—the fear of death.

I see the struggle against nothingness becoming obvious in several ways. First is the basic struggle for physical survival. But this struggle doesn't stop at "daily bread"—it continues into the quest for security and material wealth and power. The clutching of physical reality to convince ourselves that we are something and will continue to exist as something. Second, the struggle for fame and political power. We attempt to become something real in the minds of other people—the more, the better. With this is all identities based on role, profession, hierarchy, etc. And third, the struggle to fill time with activity. If we can just keep moving, building, theorizing, then we're convinced that we're something. We try to carve out a place for ourselves in the material world, in people's minds, and in time. If we're taking up 'space' then we must be something.

We struggle against nothingness feverishly because nothingness is death. To be hungry, poor, ignored, forgotten, lonely, bored is to be threatened at the core of our being. Such experiences question our very existence. It's not just the physical discomfort; it's the threat of death. So we try to establish ourselves in things, in people, and in time—yet these all disappear just as we do. It's a futile struggle, really, but I suppose it does keep us occupied and distracts us from facing our fear directly. And that's generally enough. Because we cannot face our fear directly; we simply cannot face death.

By ourselves, that is. We cannot, by our own power, face death and live. We can, however, be resurrected through faith, by the power of God's love. Faith is the death of self in which we face our own nothingness, only to be raised by God's free and loving affirmation of our somethingness. This is a somethingness not carved out of crumbling stone or fading time, but an absolute value granted by God. Only God creates, and this is God's re-creation of us. Our second birth.