This week builders are remodeling my church’s kitchen. The 60’s era decor is going out, and a new, bigger kitchen is being built. The first thing the builders did was gut the place. They ripped out old cabinets. They pulled out the old sink. The gross dirty carpet was pulled up, and they removed the 1960’s ceiling. They knocked down a wall. What they left is a shell. They emptied the place so something better could replace it. Before the better kitchen could come in, the old one had to go.
Benedict, in chapter 58 of his Rule, describes the receiving of a new brother into the monastery. If, after going through the long process of joining, the brother still wants to be a part of the monastery, then he must give away all his possessions, either to the poor or to the monastery. He then, in the oratory of the monastery, is to be stripped of all his clothing and be clothed in what belongs to the monastery. The new brother empties himself of everything before he becomes a part of the community.
The monk leaves behind everything, even the clothes on his back. The leaving isn’t only to practice emptiness; they empty themselves to that they might be filled with something better. They know to welcome the new life they must leave behind the old life. Although the monastic life is only for a few, this is the path all people of faith follow. Jesus told us we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow. He invited his followers to leave behind fishing business and riches and whatever else they were lugging along so they might follow him. The emptying is to leave an open place to be filled. The dead weight is dropped so God might fill it with something better. We leave behind plenty--old ways of being, hurtful practices, possessions--knowing that God will fill the emptiness with something much better than what we leave behind.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict