On Listening to the Void

This piece came out of one of our “Are.na Walkthroughs,” during which four people take us through a particular channel and some of the things they’ve collected in it.

The Kitchen Table Series by Carrie Mae Weems. [A person sits at a table under a lamp, with a bottle of wine and ashtray nearby, and a telephone in the foreground.]

All of life’s greatest truths are wrapped in mystery — the artists and the poets know this. 

The idea of “the void,” which takes central place within my channel “talking to the void,” speaks to this. It speaks to an internal void, which I believe is ingrained within the human condition. And an external void, which isn’t necessarily a place of nothingness or emptiness, but rather an atmosphere that affords us silence, stillness, and surrender. 

As Simone Weil notes in one of her writings, it is God who fills the void. The void points to our need for that which transcends us, and ultimately a need for the infinite and eternal.

I created this channel at a time when a lot of beliefs and truths that I held closely were being broken down and challenged. It slowly became a space for me to share reflections that I had accumulated over time, and to connect with the ideas of others that had prompted me to reflect further on my own thoughts/feelings. 


This was one of the first blocks that pivoted both the course of this channel as well as my outlook on faith and spirituality. For the first time, I saw the beauty of the cross and the Gospel: I saw that God had a face, that love wasn’t just a verb, but a person, and that person was Christ. I found myself at the foot of that cross and understood our necessity to worship. This yearning or “void” that I felt was no longer a deficit but a grace, as it’s what brings us face to face with the divine. 

This block reminds me that self-definition isn’t our load to carry and that through surrender, we can let God define us. I find it fascinating that God defines Himself as “I AM,” which to me translates as an invitation to let someone with wisdom and understanding greater than mine define what follows my “I am.” This act of acceptance, to momentarily become nothing, allows God to enter our inner vacancies in order to mold us into something far greater than what we can envision.


For one to have a calling, it means that there has to be a person issuing that call. One can’t be called if they aren’t deemed to be qualified or purposed for that call.

If we are made in the image of God, and He’s the ultimate creator, then not only does that mean that we all have creative abilities, but also that creativity is sacred. Whatever we make with our hands is an extension of the one who created everything. As Ben Okri notes: “Creativity of any valuable kind is one of the fullest expressions of the human and the godlike within us.”

I often look at preachers and see the beauty of being entrusted with the word of God, but also see the artistry in the way they deliver messages: through their cadence, the inflections at certain points, the coordination with music to drive the message home and bring out an emotional resonance, and the seriousness in other moments to remind us that this journey is a continual pursuit. I see a similar thing with artists, with them almost being a kind of prophet or messenger, entrusted to bring the unseen things into the realm of the seen through their own artistry.


I came across Caleb Azumah Nelson’s work towards the end of last year and much like other artists whose work profoundly resonates with me, I made it my mission to try and consume whatever he’d put out.

This text highlights an idea that I’ve been thinking about a lot, which is that Church is beyond the four walls and that it can be present outside the confines of a singular day. Church as places where there’s a heightened level of joy, love, and peace. A place where we can show up in the fullness of our being and embrace the complexities that come with such a task. Church as everyday places of gathering and dwelling where we can feel safe and understood. Knowing that “where two or more are gathered in His name, there the Spirit of God is in our midst,” and in that gathering, we can find freedom.


When creating this channel, I had initially intended for it to be purely text based, but eventually started connecting imagery that in its own way articulated some of the ideas being presented. This particular series by Carrie Mae Weems is one that I find myself going back to every so often, especially when thinking of silence and how it can sometimes articulate itself better than words. This image specifically makes me think of different postures of reflection, and how silence has a sound-like quality. 

When looking at it, I think of what conversation took place before the image was taken. What’s her internal monologue? What’s the background noise, if any? Why do we recline into postures of silence when language falls short? 

As artists such as Roy Decarva show us, sound can in fact be seen.


Silence as an exchange. It’s to enter into that other-space expecting that something will come out of it, and in turn, you too will be transformed from the encounter. Silence as prayer, silence as sound, silence as an external quieting to allow that which is inside, what’s always been inside to speak and move you. 

I’ve increasingly found myself craving silence the same way I crave music and sound. The lesson from this exercise has been that silence can be heard and it too has a texture and tone to it. 

This block makes me think of stories with prophets such as Moses, and the encounters he had with God. I think about what the atmosphere would’ve been like when he’d get revelations, when he’d have God speak to him through his surroundings.

What does it sound like to hear the audible voice of God? If our voices are heard aloud, does that mean God speaks through silence? 

I think silence can demonstrate a level of trust, as you wouldn’t willingly create a silent atmosphere if you weren’t expecting some kind of response or answer — however audible or faint. Silence as a pace, silence as something which has weight. To invite in silence means to have faith, and that faith requires us to listen more intently.

Alice Otieno is a multidisciplinary creative whose work centers around photography, writing & research. Her work seeks to explore fundamental ideas surrounding the nature of our existence — bridging the gap between intellectual thought process & creative practice.