Sitting here on Labor Day: I realize that I have never been able to see the parking lot across from me empty before. It’s usually overflowing with cars looking for takeout from Mesa Verde.
It’s Labor Day in the Pioneer Valley and I’m stuck working.
There is something calming about how the blue of the sky hugs the orange siding and the exposed brick of the building next door.
Downtown Greenfield, MA is a fascinating place, but when it’s basically empty of people. It is possible to see both the beauty and the need more clearly. Beauty in the old buildings. Scratch the need bit. Add, more beauty.
People being people despite the heat of the day. Riding bikes. Running. Walking slowly. Or, merely, there in the aching absence a public square feels without people to fill it.
This afternoon I’ve been reading a book about bringing the arts into spiritual direction. The author describes how there are really two approaches to living the spiritual life: kataphatic and apophatic; or receptive and expressive.
Sitting here, watching the day slowly turn from hot afternoon to more shadows and threat of thunder storm, I am struck by the idea that places some time also need the empty spaces to come into their own. Perhaps, this is another way of understanding place, by looking deeper at what a particular space is waiting for?
Speaking about my home in the Pioneer Valley, I’m thinking this place is waiting for something to happen. The region’s older mill and industrial towns especially almost seem to want to let out their breath and let something go. I see this in the struggle the older generation clings to itself. I feel it in how relations, well known family groups, and friends have a tendency to burrow into themselves. The implied fear being: the next breath might send them spinning away.
Call it the fear of the emptying spirit.
There is another story happening in this little valley, which I am only lately coming to understand. There is a stream of people that come down from places like North Adams, slips into Greenfield, flows down to Holyoke, and settles in Springfield. This is the stream of the poor looking for opportunities, jobs, and better housing, a stream that all too often gets trapped in places this older generation wishes not to see.
My eyes have seen the glory of God and I am ever watchful for God’s new song. I hear the echo of God’s work in this river flowing down.
I suspect, can’t know for sure, that this great flow of people is part of a much larger pattern that could be discerned for the people and places all across the nation. We are a people once again on the move: seeking new jobs, new families, and new hope. Few now are those that live and die in the place where they were born.
This emptying spirit has made many of us pilgrims again.
I have a hope and prayer that, years hence, we will be thankful for the space this gives.