pastoral/spiritual care

The Meaning of Zero

Spiritual epiphanies can often come to us at the oddest times and places.  Brian Fletcher, a registered nurse here at MUSC, recently experienced such a moment of clarity in a math class, of all places, during a discussion on zero.  With Brian’s permission, I share with you part of the wonderful email he wrote to a chaplain following that class.

“The meaning of the number zero is viewed by many to be ‘void of
anything.’  Yet, scholars of physics have proven that empty space is
not empty.  Based on this scientific fact, I would argue that when the
number zero is applied to religious belief systems, zero occupies
spiritual space as well.  Often it is the feeling of helplessness,
hopelessness, a void of spiritual well-being, sadness, lack of
believing and so on.  Using this definition of the number zero in
religious practice, it would stand to reason that even in our darkest
hour in spirituality, . . . the divine Creator created a place-holder in
our lives to permit us to reflect on our dilemmas and calamities and to
not be ‘void of nothingness,’. . .  But rather, allow us an attempt or an
opportunity, if you will, to reconcile with our spiritual belief system and
move in a more positive direction, solving our problems through belief and
rising up from a mere start or stop point, Zero.”

What a beautiful image this is, that even in the times when we feel abandoned by God and devoid of faith, the emptiness we feel is merely a “place-holder,” a space that God will once again fill with good things.  In the Christian scriptures, our Creator is identified as “the God who . . . calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)  God calls us hopeful, faithful, beloved, even when we may feel used up, bitter, and alone.  And the thing is, when God speaks, the words don’t just fall to the ground.  The words of God are powerful.  Our emptiness will not stay empty for long, because God enters our “nothingness” and creates something wonderful.

God of our emptiness and brokenness, thank you for holding a place for faith within us, even at our darkest moments.  Give all of us grace to see what you have to teach us in unexpected places, through math and science or art and music, or through the grandeur of the natural world.  Your fingerprints are everywhere, God.  May we remember that, in the moments when we feel empty and abandoned.  Amen.

-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent, with contributions from Brian Fletcher, RN


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