Shannon Mayer

Professor, Department of Physics

Shannon MayerFor years, I drove an apple-red pickup truck. I was enamored by its utility, its versatility, its beauty, and perhaps by the slightly tough “Don’t mess with me, I drive a truck” persona it allowed me to maintain before love compelled me to move beyond that particular form of shelter.

A friend of mine once cleverly said of the pickup, “Emptiness is its promise!” And who hasn’t been grateful for the handy space in a pickup bed to haul firewood, or help a friend move, or carry kayaks deftly to the river.

I have found myself discovering the “promise” of emptiness during these many months of pandemic closure, when the business and bustle of our “normal” lives have come to an abrupt and uncertain halt. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson writes of British Columbia’s persistent winter rains, “We have so little encouragement to cultivate emptiness, that when the weather does it for us, it strikes me as a gift.”[1]

Cultivate emptiness? A gift? We might choose to cultivate gratitude or curiosity, patience even, but emptiness? How counterintuitive to think of emptiness as a spiritual virtue, a reality to be embraced. It goes against the culture of more and better and busier. And yet, for me, this season of interruption has provided an invitation to explore emptiness and to find gifts unexpected. It has been an opportunity for less agenda, more attentiveness. Less busyness, more being.

After decades of hurry and bustle, I have settled into my neighborhood—and into myself—seeking to know this place intimately. Walking among the many heritage trees that anchor The Bluff, I have found their steadfast presence and generous giving a reminder that letting go is essential to new growth and renewed fruitfulness. Planting a perennial garden with my neighbor along the boundary line between our homes, I discovered that a simple act of unity, written in dahlias, renewed my hopefulness in a fractured world. Kayaking along the Franz River Campus, spotting the osprey nest atop the massive railroad bridge, I treasured the gentle and bittersweet reminder that the fledging of young ones is the natural way of life. Each of these experiences was a gift to shape the emptiness.

I am a scientist, schooled in curiosity; trained to be seeking, discovering, busy. Stillness and waiting don’t come naturally. And yet, I discovered that emptiness holds a promise. It can guide us on the way.

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends. Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan Press (1998) pg. 31.