What happens when you pray in an empty room (and I do mean empty)

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January is a good month to think about creating.  With the turn of the year, there’s a new blank slate of possibility in front of each of us. What will we create in 2016?

I thought of this yesterday morning, as I sipped my cup of coffee and did some morning prayer.  The first reading I came to was Genesis 1:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

Not the first time I’ve read these words, but something in them spoke to me in a new way.  I love this story of how there was nothing, and out of nothing came something, prompted into existence by the will of the Divine.

It helped, maybe, that I was reading these words while sitting on the floor of a brand-new room in the back of our house, a room that did not exist a few months ago.


To contextualize this, I should explain that our house is a teeny postwar one. It has closets so miniscule that it makes you wonder whether people in the forties walked around mostly naked.  The fact that it had only one bathroom wasn’t a problem for the first few years we lived here; at first it was just Scott and me sharing it, which was doable.  Then we had a baby, but as babies take a while to get to the point where they need a toilet, it wasn’t too big an issue.

Then we had another baby, and then both babies grew up and began needing private bathroom time, and for the past few years having one bathroom has been a challenge, particularly in the morning when I am rushing to get out the door and Scott is rushing to get the boys to school and thence to work.  (And when company is staying over, we practically have to put in one of those red Please Take a Number dispensers you find in delis.)

So last October, we started work on a long-cherished dream: to add a second bathroom.  We also reconfigured our bedroom and added in a little more closet space.  And now, it’s almost completely done: a compact but lovely second bathroom and a bedroom where the paint is new and the floors unscuffed and where, driven by a desire to sit in its light-filled loveliness, I sat to pray yesterday morning.

Before last fall, I’d never seen home construction up close before.  It was a fascinating process.  In order to expand into the backyard we lost a gorgeous Japanese maple whose passing I mourned, as well as a spidery mildewy old shed whose passing I celebrated.  Every day I loved coming home from work and seeing what had been done: ditch, foundations, walls, roof, electrical wiring, plumbing, etc.    You realize how important it is to have a good contractor (luckily, we did) as there are so many little things that need to come together.

And as I sat there in the empty room that will never again be this clean and read the first few lines of Genesis, I thought again about creation.  Isn’t there something amazing about creating something that never before existed?  To go from a mere idea to finished product – to know that you brought something into being that literally was not there before – that’s a heady feeling.  I can’t take credit for our addition; that belongs to the contractors and the architect. But to be able to witness the process, to be a part of it, is exciting because it affirms that creative impulse and lets me share in the satisfaction of making something from nothing.

That’s one thing that has always appealed to me about writing, too.  To know that there is something in my mind that does not exist outside of my brain, and then to get that to the point where it becomes a blog post or an article, or something even more tangible like a book (2016 being a big year for me in that regard!) – well, that’s a deeply satisfying feeling.  That must be how artists feel about creating a sketch, or how a composer feels about composing music, or how a seamstress feels about creating a dress, or how a programmer feels about writing code.   There are so many different ways to bring something new into being, and even if we can’t relate to the activity itself, we can all understand that satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

As I sat in the empty room, I thought about how that impulse to create comes from a holy place.  Our Scripture begins with creation, with something from nothing.  Our God shows us that it is good.  And in January, it’s a good feeling to look at the eleven months ahead of us and start to plan — or at least,  begin to discern — how we’ll put our own unique creative impulses to use.

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