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Is This the Fertile Void?


Anytime someone has asked me how I’m doing during this crisis I notice myself stumbling over my words to answer them. Not because I’m uncomfortable to say, but because it’s simply hard to describe how I feel. And it’s even harder to explain why I feel the way I do.

A few folks who’ve read the chapter, The Fertile Void, in When Faith Becomes Sight have asked us point blank, “Is this crisis we’re in the fertile void?” The more I reflect on their question and what we’re going through, the more I wonder, as well. In fact, my stumbling around, trying to find my words to answer how I’m doing seems to be convincing evidence.

The term “fertile void” is a psychological term developed by Fritz Perls. He described it as an experience where “meaning-making ceases and being begins.” When we are bereft of the ability to make meaning of something, to understand it and make sense of it, we experience a void. An empty, hollow, traction-less sense of where we are and what life is about. And Perls would argue, “That’s where we learn the art of being.”

Here’s what gives this crisis the qualities of a fertile void:

  1. Our enemy is invisible, and we are POWERLESS to fight it.

Everyone we encounter, including our family members, could be “carriers” of this disease. It’s invisible, clinging to clothes, and handrails, and countertops, and on trashcans. It’s invisible. And it feels like it’s everywhere. Unseen. And we are powerless to a-void it. Even if we take all the measures to sanitize our environments and diligently wash our hands and wear face masks, can it sneak behind the barriers and protocols. Yes, it can.

  1. We are UNCERTAIN if/when life will return to normal and how to proceed.

The greatest stress and tension with this pandemic currently reside in how to proceed. But then there’s the warning that if we do so too quickly, are too cavalier, we will spike again. The Coronavirus is going to be with us for a long time, they say. How do we live with that knowledge? Will life ever return to quasi-normal? This uncertainty has a psychological effect that causes anxiety, exhaustion, and grim uncertainty.

  1. We are ISOLATED from each other and starved for real human connection and touch.

It’s impossible to measure the toll this has taken on us from being deprived of human connection and human touch. It’s like we’re experiencing a form of malnourishment that depletes us of energy and vitality. We need sunshine for our bodies to get enough vitamin D to be healthy. And we need real human connection and human touch just as desperately to have a sense of well-being.

  1. We’ve LOST meaning to our days.

Each day feels like another, doesn’t it? While many of us continue to work, even our work lacks meaning and a sense of going somewhere. What’s this all adding up to? Why are we doing what we’re doing? If work has been a primary source of meaning, it now feels ludicrous. If we are what we do, then our lives have been a masquerade.

This is where the fertile void steps in and offers its hand of hope. While being POWERLESS, UNCERTAIN, ISOLATED AND LOST describes the “void” of this crisis we’re in, the “fertile” hope of our experience is how this time can transform us. A fertile void is where meaning-making ceases and being begins. And being is what life is about!

To “be” is to live fully in the present moment.

To “be” is to cease striving and know that God is God.

To “be” is to possess peace from accepting what we can’t change and changing what we can.

To “be” is to accept our humanness, finiteness and mortality.

Yes, we are living in the fertile void. And if we consent to “be” in the powerlessness, uncertainty, isolation, and lostness of this void--it will not have the last word! The deep work it does in us will make us into people of “being.” Human beings. And that will be a tremendous homecoming!

Image by Daniel Nilsson and Jordan Canjar, The Fertile Void Project

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