|Photo by NASA's Marshall Space Flight|
My husband has spent the last fifteen years methodically transforming me into a geek. The disturbing scope of his success emerged one evening when he said, “Want to watch a documentary about supermassive black holes?” and I went, “Yeaaaah!”
And I was completely serious.
Supermassive Black Holes
Astronomers have discovered that black holes, once considered potentially mythological anomalies as rare as a Yeti riding a fire-breathing dragon taking the holy grail to Atlantis, actually exist at the center of most, if not all galaxies, our own Milky Way included. They can’t be seen, because they absorb light. One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them: stars and dust and light and so forth.
One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them. Hang onto that for a minute.
Previously assumed to be purely destructive entities, astrophysicists now believe that black holes are responsible for the entire genesis of the galaxies that surround them. A number of theories exist about how black holes initially form, but one thing seems clear: without them, the surrounding planets and stars and galactic matter could never have come into being.
As we watched this intriguing program I thought, “This is just begging for a supermassive, extended analogy about life.”
Plumb sings, “There’s a God-shaped hole in all of us,” describing the internal emptiness we spend our lives attempting to fill.
We amass money and all the things it can buy: houses, cars, jewelry, friends. Or we crave fame, celebrity, and status. Some collect experiences, like traveling, eating and drinking, or hits of adrenaline. Others ache for meaning, connection, spirituality, or self-actualization. But common to all these pursuits is the eventual realization that no amount of anything is ever enough. We can never satisfy the gaping black maws of need inside ourselves.
Never satisfied. Hmm.
Galactic black holes exist in two states: feeding (or accreting) and dormant. Astronomers explain that black holes absorb matter, or accrete, until they reach a size at which, combined with the movement of the material around them, they actually begin to repel things. Once their gravitational pull is no longer sufficient to suck stuff in, they fall dormant.
So if I understand the mechanics here, this means that black holes never become full, or satisfied; they simply get too big and lose the ability to attract what they crave. So they become inert.
They give up?
Applied to the supermassive black hole inside of me, this explains so much.
The Needy, Greedy Pit of Me
My chow of choice is others’ favor. I have an insatiable appetite for approval and appreciation. It ushered me into a long career of people-pleasing. When asked to do or give something, I could never refuse, because I might anger or disappoint someone. Then I would not be thought well of, a fate worse than death by dismemberment via rusty soup spoon.
Needing to be noticed also turned me into an entertainer. Joking, telling stories, grabbing center stage became my modus operandi. I wasn’t so much a ham as a ham and fontina on toasted pumpernickel with pickles, tomatoes, and horseradish.
Pining for people’s approval made me insecure, jealous, and bitter. Why? Because there’s only so much favor to go around. If the boss commended another employee, it meant he wasn’t impressed with me. When someone else got the part for which I auditioned, it proved that I didn’t measure up in the director’s eyes. If my romantic interest preferred someone else, I took it as a rejection of my sum total value as a human being.
My black hole became increasingly supermassive the more I tried to feed it.
Remember that thought I asked you to hang onto? One detects black holes by observing the behavior of the stuff around them.
I hit a crisis point when I realized I was angry at just about everyone. “I’m sick of everything,” I wrote in my journal. “Life feels like one big, endless cycle of stuff I don’t like… My only value to anyone is in what I do for them… All I do is serve others, then get asked to serve even more. Nothing will ever be enough. No one will ever say, ‘You’ve fulfilled the requirements.’” The real lynchpin of my angst emerged in the final sentence I wrote that day: “I just want to be left alone.”
What did I most want? To go dormant. Because I’d discovered that I could never get enough of what I wanted from the stuff and people around me.
Something Out of Nothing
The Ecclesiastical Teacher contends that “All a man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied” (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
So what’s the point of this hunger? This desire for whatever it is that we crave? Why must we even have this black hole inside us?
Because it points us to the fact that we will never be complete, or filled, or satisfied by anything inside or outside of us. That hole is the very thing that produced and now holds in balance everything else in our lives.
It’s only in recognizing that at our core we are vastly empty that we begin to grasp not only the profound vacuum of our own existence, but also the enormous creative power that can emerge as a function of that vacuum. Everything we do and create and produce, then, is evidence of the power of God working in and out of us. It’s an enigma and a paradox that out of the depths of our eternal emptiness can flow eternal substance.
When we accept that we are nothing, God then works in and through us to make real the truth that the end of all being is indeed the glory of God.