White Space

Monday morning, and I am thinking about white space. What does it mean to you? To me it means, first of all, the space on the page which sets off text, gives words shape and impact and allows meaning to flow from the jumble of letters and words. It is a necessary adjunct to thoughtful composition and close reading. White space is what makes poetry poetic and architecture architectural; it is the silence between musical notes; the inner form of sculpture; the hidden essence of the painted image; the heart enthralled by prayer.

Space does not mean the absence of colour or form, anymore than the air we breathe implies an absence just because we cannot see it. It has nothing to do with size, but the fact that it is white is important. White reflects light and warmth, increases our sense of spaciousness and confers a sense of freedom. It is the colour of the Resurrection and Ascension, of joy and triumph, of a transformation wrought by grace which reveals the mystery within. Pentecost will clothe us in red, the colour of blood and flame, but for now we are surrounded by white. It ‘unclutters’ us. White space helps us know ourselves, and knowing ourselves is a step towards knowing God.

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7 thoughts on “White Space”

  1. Whereas I seek, love and need time and space for silence and contemplation, white space is rather terrifying. It reminds me of what Oliver Cromwell did to our beautiful churches in Britain and how easy it is to convince ourselves that what we want is God’s will. I actually find the Latin exuberance of continental churches much more conducive to worship, prayer and enlightening reflection.

    Often and often, over the decades, have I sat in English churches mentally painting the peeling whitewashed walls when I should have been listening to a sermon, but I suppose that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an effect on some level.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I don’t myself see white space as negative or destructive: it is the purity of a Cistercian church or a Shaker chair for me rather than Cromwellian iconoclasm. Thank you for making me look at it with different eyes.

  3. I find I agree with Rosy Cole. Having attended Mass in some of the great cathedrals in Montreal, I have always welcomed and loved the riot of decoration and colour, offering, as the designers intended, a foretaste of the glories of Heaven.
    Perhaps its comes from living in a place where white is the color of the landscape for too many months of the year, a cold, bleak, hardness of white that makes one long for the joyous burst of colour that spring and summer bring for all to short a time.
    White light, in truth, contains all colours, while white pigment, reflects all colours, and is seems empty and barren until something is put upon it, either as words , or art.
    While there is a peace that simplicity and purity of form can bring, to some of us, that peace can be found in what some would consider chaos.

  4. Though I’ve never visited the defaced and whitewashed churches Rosy describes, I’ve had the same sickening reaction upon seeing their interiors in BBC documentaries, the same reaction as viewing the remains of ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan destroyed by the Taliban. Such a loss of history and culture.

    Here in our very snowy land, as the sun sets in winter, the snow ceases to reflect the light of the sun, no longer appearing white, as it takes on the dusky blue of the darkening evening sky. I remember as a child this “blue” was referred to as “our Lady’s mantle”, and was a sign for us to give up our playing outdoors, leave behind our snowmen, forts and slides, return to our respective homes for supper, and then homework.

  5. One last though on iconoclasm. The human psyche is attuned to symbols. The mind is always looking for patterns and attempting to assign or determine meanings from them. Symbols are a powerful input to the mind, in essence, they become a powerful focus for the mind. Look at the history of sacred sites or times. One culture often imposes its own symbols on those previous (Roman shines over Celtic sacred spaces, to then be superimposed by Christian sacred spaces.
    It would suggest that the iconoclasts, whether Byzantine or Cromwellian knew this , and as such set out to destroy the power or influence behind of the symbols..

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