emptiness, blankness, wordlessness

There are two significant moments in the life of Jesus that remain practically unwritten. The first of these moments is known as the “hidden life” of Jesus. It is the time during Jesus’ life spent in Nazareth. We know from the gospel of Luke that he grew in age and wisdom, but there are no stories that vividly detail the key events during this period of time. Did Jesus love to watch the stars like Abraham? Did he love to climb trees like Zacchaeus? Did he love to trek up the mountains as he did during his public ministry when he wanted to pray? Was he ever robbed like the guy in the parable of the good Samaritan? Did he fall in love or have feelings of infatuation like most growing adolescents? Did he love to bake bread or make a piece of furniture together his father, the carpenter Joseph? Did he have a quarter-life crisis? We can ask a thousand similar questions, but the words of scripture offer us no direct answers. The pages of the hidden life of Jesus remain unwritten, they are silent, they remain empty.

The second moment in the life of Jesus that remains unwritten is the moment of his resurrection. We believe that he rose from the dead, but how exactly did this take place? Was there a bright ray of light that emanated from the cave? Did he open his eyes first before moving his limbs? Did he levitate and then pass through the burial cloth? Was there a fragrant odor emitted, an appealing odor similar to the saints of recent times? Exactly how long did the event of resurrection take? If you were a director of a film and asked to portray the resurrection, what exactly would your audience see? What details would you put? We remain intrigued precisely because the bible is not much of help in filling in the details. The resurrection takes place in the darkness of the night, while the world is sleeping, when no one is looking. Like Nazareth, real and true though it is, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is a hidden event. The only residue of its occurrence is an empty tomb. By itself, an empty tomb is rather undramatic as it is not much of a spectacle compared to a crucifixion at Golgotha.

The hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth and the hidden event of the resurrection. The pages about these two moments in the life of Jesus are blank, as there are no words written. Like the tomb of Easter, the pages are empty.

And we ask: wouldn’t it perhaps be better if God gave us more details for us to create a more elaborate picture? Wouldn’t it be better if the writers of the gospels exposed the hidden life of Jesus or described more colorfully how Jesus rose from the dead? Why let the pages be blank, wordless, and empty?

I suppose the things that are easier to write about or express are those filled with drama. It is easier to make a movie on the passion of the Christ than a film on the resurrection event of Christ. But even if a film were in fact made, would it not end up being absurd and would its visual depiction spoil the entire mystery of the resurrection? I suppose the same can be said about the hidden life of Jesus. Any written composition in this regard would seem to spoil the whole story. I mean, why write about something that happens every day? Today, for dinner, the teenager Jesus ate bread and fish with Mary and Joseph. OK…what’s the point? Why even bother to report something that is so repetitive, boring, and so everyday an event? Why even bother at all to inscribe something so commonplace, so simple, so ordinary?

But the hidden life of Jesus and the hidden event of his resurrection have a value. And their value lies precisely in their being hidden. They are hidden, but they are real. The pages are empty, blank, and wordless, but the stories that are contained in this emptiness, blankness, and wordlessness are superabundantly overflowing, and so real, even more real than whatever words can inadequately express.

It is not true that we grapple for words to express the utter simplicity and sheer ordinariness of the everyday? It is not true that we struggle for words when we are left in awe at stark beauty and are face-to-face with the profoundness and depths of an experienced love? The best articulation of such experiences is silence. But it is a pregnant silence that is saturated with a love that words cannot capture. We remain silent before the extraordinariness of the ordinary, the greatness of small things that we can take for granted, and the grandness of the little gestures of love. They are best expressed as empty, blank, and wordless pages; and yet they speak more superabundantly, more infinitely, more elegantly than a million pages filled with words, words, and words.

Easter therefore invites us to rediscover the meaning of silence, of darkness, of wordlessness, of blankness, of emptiness, of hiddenness. Easter is alive in our own Nazareths. God is there in our everyday, beyond words, beyond any human expression, but so real and so true, a mystery that is sometimes best left unsaid but deeply felt. He is alive in the ordinary, in the hidden, in the little, in the utterly simple, in the uneventful, in the everyday. Let us respect the emptiness of wordlessness because such emptiness also points to new and greater possibilities? How can we ever write of new dreams, to dream of new dreams when the pages are already filled with words? How can we ever write of new and better things when there is no more space to write about a new life? It is only in the emptiness of the tomb that the story of a new life of Easter can be written. Let there be, therefore, an emptiness where God can keep rewriting a new story of our lives, an emptiness where we can allow God to surprise us beyond the often too frail and finite limitations of our human imaginations alone. Let us give that space to God.

The hidden life of Jesus at Nazareth and the hidden event of the resurrection—these two moments interpenetrate each other. The resurrected Jesus once again enters into the ordinariness of the life of Nazareth. The resurrection Jesus remains hidden, but he is there in the realities of our everyday, so real as the simple love of the everyday, as real as the love we give and receive, a daily love that makes Jesus so real to us. If we want to experience Easter, let us therefore go back to our own hidden lives at Nazareth. It is there in the everyday where the resurrected Jesus meets us. Let us not be afraid of the small, the little, the least, the last—because in their seeming insignificance, they hold the greatest truths of love. Let us not be afraid of the ordinary, to be ordinary, be love the ordinary. Let us not be afraid of hiddenness, of being unknown, anonymous, unrecognized, unacclaimed. Let us not be afraid of the daily grind, of undergoing again and again our life struggles that are unseen by many, but known completely to God.

Let us therefore celebrate Easter in the Nazareths of our lives.

-Bro. Oliver Dy, S.J., Easter Vigil 2008

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