Years ago the Swiss therapist and spiritual guide Paul Tournier caught my attention with a dramatic image comparing life to a trapeze performance in a circus.
The trapeze artist grasps the bar of a swing, launches out, swings back and forth, higher and higher, until at the farthest point he or she lets go, trusting their partner to swing out at just the right time to reach out, clasp arms, and swing them to safety on the other side.
Just imagining such a moment makes my stomach clutch, and my breath catch! It also makes me realize how apt Tournier’s image is for this Lenten season, a time to let go, and reach out.
The Bible is filled with stories of this risky movement. Abraham is called to leave the security of his ancestral home, and to go out by faith to a land he did not know. The disciples of Jesus leave the boats and livelihood and families, saying “We have left all to follow you.”
Jesus himself said, “I have power to lay my life down, and to take it up again.” Notice how his letting go is tied to the certainty of resurrection.
Paul’s sees himself not as a trapeze performer but a runner. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Can you picture yourself, this Lenten season, as the trapeze artist or the runner, “letting go, and reaching out”?
The past year was for me in many ways a year of loss: young leaders I have mentored facing life-threatening illnesses; my brother-in-law Billy reaching his 95th birthday but growing weaker; the traumatic death of my dog Wrangler, my close companion for nine years.
“I feel that everything is going away,” I told a friend.” She surprised me by asking, “What time does God’s store close?”
I thought back to my parents’ jewelry store, which closed at 6pm every day except weekends. Then I realized that God’s store does not close! His grace is available 24/7 for every letting go, and every reaching out.
As I look back over my life I remember painful partings, letting go of “attachments” which had seemed absolutely vital, even wondering whether life would be whole again. But God was calling through loss to gain, letting go of the past to enter into God’s future.
Each of us has certain “attachments”, habits or people, or even addictions or possessions which we clutch for security. And each of us is again and again called to “detachment” in order to trust God more.
I suggest two questions to ask as you embark on your Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday next week.
What do I need to let go? What unfinished business is there that is holding you back – of hurt, or dreams, or failure, or the normal patterns of the last year? Try holding out your hands, visualize placing those concerns in them, then turn them over and open them, releasing them into God’s care.
To what do I need to reach out? To what new adventure or challenge may God be calling you? Turn your hands upward, open them and lift them, and receive at least a token of God’s grace.
As the Quaker Thomas Kelly wrote,
(God) plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And (God) hurls the world into our hearts, where we and (God) together carry it in infinitely tender love.
So this Lent – let go – reach out – trust God