“I wonder why space and emptiness are almost always seen as loss, as missed opportunity, as the unknown in need of labelling. Yet nothing much can ever happen without them. Rather are they the necessary conditions and context for imagination and understanding. Without the blank margins on this page, or the spaces between the letters of each word, you could not read it. Without the small silences between the notes, we would never hear a melody. Space is not a vacuum. Dark space, like mystery, is where the tomb becomes the womb, where the light is let in.
I remembered a conversation I had with Vincente, the architect who built our most beautiful Church of St Benedict in East Leeds a few years ago. Behind the altar and the presidential chair we created a huge, totally empty wall. Parishioners thought we had forgotten something. Everyone wanted to pin a meaning on it – a figure, a banner, a text, a cross. Vincente talked to me about the potential for worship in the concept of space; about creating a building in which all that was unnecessary was excluded; about simplifying a church so that the emptiness could be made meaningful only by the infinite. The invisible has the strongest presence of all..
When it comes to understanding the essence of the Gracious Mystery, silent space and empty nothingness have long been at the heart of the Church’s apophatic tradition – a non-negotiable reminder that all our descriptions of God will forever be well wide of the mark. The Gracious Mystery can never be confined in small places, in small images, in small liturgies. We are always tempted to lock God away in windowless tabernacles with low ceilings and high security; to pinpoint the divine presence with fallible compasses and dogmatic navigation systems. The Spirit of God will always need space to blow and dance where she will.”
Father Daniel O’Leary (1937 – 2019)