Abiding in Exile - Mining the Negative Space 09/02/2021

Abiding in Exile - Mining the Negative Space 09/02/2021

September 02, 2021

By: Rev. Lee Roorda Schott

I’m just back from a much-needed vacation that included four days on the road between here and southwest Colorado. Playing the alphabet game to pass the time, I was helped by the many FedEx trucks. And while logging the sometimes elusive “F,” I found myself marveling again at the arrow in their logo.

You know about that, right? It’s been there all along, but I didn’t see it until someone pointed it out. You have to look at the white space between the E and the X. See it?  
Turns out, a lot of logos include layers of meaning that aren’t always obvious. 
When we updated our logo a few years ago at Women at the Well, when I served as pastor there, we did that, too. A conversation about the logo needing to include the cross led to a realization that it was already there. Take a look at the link. Do you see it?* 
All of this is to say, a lot of truth and symbolism is hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to miss.
In graphic design, the space between things is called “negative space.” The arrow between the E and X in FedEx uses the negative space between those letters to convey something important about that company. Many logos take advantage of the negative space that way. 
Funny, creativity isn’t what I think of when I hear “negative space.” Those words make me think of the spot I’ve been occupying way too much of late—even on my vacation. The news seems all bad, lately. Whether it’s COVID or climate change, Afghanistan or racism, hurricanes or wildfires: so much that is negative is flooding our consciousness. 
There’s hard news in our churches, too, and in ministry. Whether it’s those still-empty seats or the bankruptcy of the Boy Scouts, or another a brewing conflict or what to do about choir with rising COVID numbers. All this has been exhausting. It keeps being exhausting. 
It’s no wonder it’s hard to pull our minds and hearts away from the negativity that seems to pool around us.

But the wisdom of graphic design encourages me to look again. What if I looked at all the news, all the noise, and thought of them as the letters in the FedEx logo? And then looked harder at the space between all that?** I wonder what shapes and ideas and truths might show up there. 
In other words, when our attention gets pulled again and again to the things, the crises, the worries, it is so easy to miss what lies between them. The spaces. The silences. The tendrils that are emerging. The “freshness deep down things,” to use that compelling phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Could we imagine that freshness remains, even here and now?
That’s the discipline I’m trying to bring with me as I return from vacation, and as we begin a new season. I want to mine the negative space—the richly seeping kind of negative space, in all the good ways—that’s right here around me. To notice the gaps that are getting filled. To celebrate the joys that spill over. The people who are stepping up. The room that has expanded in unexpected ways. 
It’s easy to say that—and I really do mean it!—but I already know that the things so take over. The things are what get to my to-do list. They’re what I lose sleep over, what I find myself lamenting in conversations with friends. Before long—just like with the Fed Ex logo, I can already predict it: I’m only going to see the letters! 
I’ll have to remember to look for the arrow, the spaces, the freshness. Let us help one another. When you see me, or that other friend or colleague, ask them. What’s bubbling up between things? What’s happening around the crises? Great, necessary questions that I hope we’ll ask in this time.
I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you
speak the peace you long to hear.      

--The Servant Song, stanza 3, The Faith We Sing 2222
*The cross in the Women at the Well logo is formed by the use of color in the sides of the “well.” It’s subtle, but it’s real.
**In the Bronx Zoo logo, there’s a NY cityscape in the space between the animals’ legs. Brilliant!


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