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A Comfortable Emptiness!

On a faded scroll framed in mahogany and hung in the hallway of an old farmhouse I chanced many years ago to read what then, in my youth, seemed important but now many years later is ingrained in my heart as one of the most profound and impacting statements I have ever read.

“Four things in any land must dwell, If it endures and prospers well:

One is manhood true and good: One is noble womanhood;

One is child life, clean and bright; And one an altar kept alight.”

These few simple lines by an unknown author have stuck with me over the course several decades, although I must confess that until recently I had only a feeling about them and a better memory of the house and frame than of the words. It wasn’t until recently when I ran across them again in a book I inherited from my grandmother that they suddenly sprang back to life in my heart. “Those are the words to that old poem in that old farmhouse!” Like some distant memory faded but kindled suddenly by a random thought or chance event, the words came cascading back as if I had read them yesterday.

“An altar kept alight!” I looked out our great room windows as the sun set over the beech trees in our valley. It’s at times like this that I am often overcome by a feeling of almost comfortable emptiness. Complicated thoughts of the day, of responsibilities that press and work left undone, have rested heavily upon my heart for hours. Now, at sun’s setting, home thoughts, thoughts of wooden floors, planked stairways and window screens, begin pushing out the complicated and replacing them with the simple. The house is quiet from the day and, with nighttime approaching, thoughts of securing creep over me. It’s time to begin checking and locking things, tending to family needs for the night and the morning to follow as well as making one last round around the place. Thus “emptied out,” I am ready to be filled again with the things that really matter; the soft voice of a child, my wife’s smile and the thud of the dog as she plunks herself down at my feet. What mysterious transforming this is! How can such simple things possess so much magic?

If that old scroll is right, it is the presence of man, woman and child that create the magic. The comfortable emptiness of a home thus blessed is a call to worship, to kindle the family altar, as the hand of our Lord beckons us once again to put the day aside and be filled with a comfortable emptiness that blesses and brings promises of a sunrise sure to follow.

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