While reading Rev. Kwak Roh-soon’s “When the New Dawn Breaks,” one cannot help but wonder if the extra empty spaces have any intentionality behind them. A waste of paper, one might think. Only after looking closer, it becomes apparent that these seemingly empty spaces are not so blank after all. Some have little lines inserted, such as, “A blank page is an empty space,” “A blank page, but not necessarily empty,” “Empty space is filled,” “Empty, yet overflowing.” My guess is that it was the publisher’s editing error, but Rev. Kwak somehow creatively made the best out of it.
Empty spaces have been a common sight this year. Empty spaces in our hearts and minds, as well as in our distance between each other. Empty spaces in our worship halls and communal tables, as well as in the very seats once packed with vigor of life. Full, however, were hospital rooms, our concerns and anxieties. For some, empty spaces worked out as a blessing in disguise. For others, the same emptiness translated into hunger and frustrated hopes.
How are we filling the empty spaces in our lives? In the beginning God filled the emptiness, imbuing the void with meaning, chaos with harmony, and darkness with light. Yet in this season of waiting for the coming of Jesus, we remember how the inn was so full that there was no room for Christ to be born. People were already too full to make room for God who came to be with us.
On my wall is an image of an orchid with calligraphy that reads, “Wind on an Empty Field.” It was a gift from poet and playwright Kim Chi-ha. Wind blowing through an empty field…the more I reflect on this imagery, the more hope-filled I become. The empty spaces in our lives are not void of meaning. Empty space could as well be a space decluttered and opened up by God’s grace, so that there could be more room for Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Through the empty spaces – even the empty church – God may be preparing the fields of our hearts for the coming wind of the Spirit of God.
Rev. Kwak planted Sharon Church, borrowing the space from an Anglo-American church on Sundays. Thirty-some years ago I was his associate pastor, and our worship services held at 1PM – probably not the best time to gather in a building sans air conditioning during Chicago summer heat. But once Rev. Kwak began preaching, it was like a cool breeze blowing through the still air. His pastoral ministry comprised 10 hours of daily reading 7 days a week. When I asked him about home visits, he only replied, “I attend to the needs of our church members while staying put. A mere busy motion is rarely a precursor to God’s moving.” In those days, I also did campus ministry in several locations. He asked me, “Why are you so keen on teaching when you haven’t learned much?” And looking at the cluster of keys I carried, he commented, “Growing in enlightenment means fewer keys to carry, but your stack is growing day after day.” Then one day Rev. Kwak requested that I make an announcement in a local newspaper: “We no longer receive new customers.” Sharon’s congregation was growing, averaging well-over 70 people on Sundays. He viewed that growth in number was enough but his teachings didn’t sit well with me then. After mustering up some strength, I asked him a few questions and was let go on the following Sunday. Being let go wasn’t easy but Rev. Kwak remains a formative influence in my life. Time spent with him was a valuable learning experience.
Oh how hard I tried to fill the COVID void earlier this year. But entering into Advent, I’ve come to see that now is the time to appreciate our empty spaces and make ready for God who wills to enter.
May the fresh wind of the Spirit blow into our empty fields, and the presence of Jesus fill the hearts of those poor in spirit. I pray for the blessings of God-with-us in our homes and our church this Advent season.