A member shared a message this week about growing up catholic and being taught catechisms in Sunday school. One went like this: grace was likened to a full bottle of milk and an empty bottle was likened to sin.
In certain traditions, especially buddhism, being empty is not considered a sin but a spiritual opening. The image of an empty vessel ready to receive is quintessential. In fact, there is a famous story of a student who seeks wisdom from a buddhist master. The master sits with the student and artfully engages in a sacred tea ceremony by preparing the cups, making the tea and carefully pouring it … until the students cup runs over. The student yells at the master “you are dishonoring the tea ceremony!” to which the master replies “it is hard to fill a cup that is already full.”
The beauty of the silent Quaker meeting is the silence itself. It offers the opportunity to empty out amidst a life that is so full of noise and doing. It is akin to the Taoist koan of “the action of inaction.”
When I heard this message of the empty milk bottles I recalled my childhood. It was completely automatic and a kind of free association. Neurons just began to fire as I went down memory lane. I’d go down to the our neighbors farm, wash my milk can with scalding hot water, dip it in the big stainless steel vat and leave my $1.15 on the farmers desk.
Milk bottles, especially full ones where the cream separated over night on the top, represented pure luxury for me. As a child, I loved nothing more than having all that delicious cream in my Cheerios in the morning. I always made a point of beating my sister downstairs in the morning to get that cream.
The full bottle of milk with the cream was a gift I gave myself. My little reward for going down early in the morning to get the milk before the milk truck got there and hauled it away.
This hour of emptiness, of Quaker silence, is a gift. Some might even call it bathing in the Grace of God. We don’t need to earn it. There’s no task to complete to receive it. There is no being ‘deserving of grace.’ It’s there for the taking, like the cream, just waiting for us to partake.
Perhaps it is possible to be both filled with grace and empty to receive it.