Spiritual formation invites us on a journey: “from”—–“to.”
Nouwen takes one of those metaphors—emptying/filling—and uses it to talk further about abandonment.
There are other images that convey the same message: dying/rising, darkness/light, death/life—-“from”/”to.”
Notice that every image begins in renunciation and moves toward renewal. As Nouwen puts it, we must first become empty before God can fill us (p. 5).
He also rightly notes that it is a gradual infilling.
Have you ever accidentally poured a liquid into a glass or bowl too quickly? If so, you know that it sloshes out all over the place, and it may even turn the receptacle over—maybe even breaking it.
So too, our souls receive God’s infilling slowly—but surely—little by little.
That’s why we assess spiritual formation more correctly by the steps we take than by the leaps we make. Once in a while we may “leap a tall building in a single bound,” but most of the time we just put one foot in front of the other. We may sometimes run, but most of the time we are walking.
For some, this kind of spiritual formation doesn’t seem “spectacular” enough, but it is the way God has chosen to fill our souls. God knows that in the spiritual life, as with all other life, one thing leads to another. It is in accepting the sacredness of the present moment that we are given light to step into the next one.
The Bible reminds us that today is the day of salvation, precisely because we cannot go back to yesterday, and tomorrow is not here yet. If we want to be “filled with the Spirit” we must be first emptied of everything that is not of the Spirit. When you check out Galatians 5:16-23, you’ll see that Paul even wrote about it in that order: emptying, then filling.