Intentionally Blank

You see it quite often in various publications, usually in manuals or regulations of some sort. Government documents frequently have it—the “intentionally blank” page. I understand the use of blank pages so a new chapter will start on the right-hand page, but I’m not sure I understand the need to place “This page left intentionally blank” in the middle of the blank page. Our forbears certainly never did such things. If they wanted to occupy the space, they would place a picture or an engraving on the page.

When I print documents that contain intentionally blank pages, I usually pull them all out. At any given time, I have a small stack on my desk and use them for scratch paper. I even had an intentionally blank card in my wallet for several years. I had received a printed card in the mail, but the way the stock was set, two cards had to be printed per sheet, so the second one had “intentionally blank” printed on it. I found it amusing.

It’s funny because it is a paradox. By printing “intentionally blank” on the page, it is no longer blank. A more accurate phrase would be, “This page intentionally devoid of content” or some such thing. It’s a different take on the “liar paradox.” This classic paradox in its simplest form can be given thus:

This statement is false.

Now try to determine if that is a true statement or not. It’s great fun. As a philosophy major in college, I devoted a fair amount of time to this question. There have been numerous articles written on “self-referential truth claims” as one author classified the paradox genre.

There is something deeply philosophical, or even theological, about the intentionally blank page phenomena. Some things are only useful when they are blank. I occasionally buy books that are intentionally blank so I can take notes and journal in them. I used to buy blank media—cassette tapes, CDs, memory sticks, memory cards—though those days seem to be waning.  In a manner of speaking, I paid money for nothing, but what I really purchased was potential; the potential to fill that media with music or pictures or data.

A silent retreat can be an intentionally blank time. It is mostly time spent alone and quiet with prayer and reading interspersed. The idea is to create some “intentionally blank” space in our noisy lives for God to speak into.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling,

Isaiah 30:15 (ESV)

I have even come to think that the whole point of the Sabbath regulations of the Mosaic Law were to teach dependence on God (because you can’t “be productive”) and to create blank space for listening to God. I certainly need to be intentional about having some meaningful blank space in my life amidst all the other things that call out for my attention each day.

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