On a Lenten journey
The Swiss doctor, Paul Tournier, once compared life to a trapeze performance in a circus.
The trapeze artist grasps the bar of a swing, then launches into space, swinging back and forth in rhythm, higher and higher until the arc of the swing is at the farthest point out.
His or her partner on the opposite platform watches carefully, and then with (hopefully) impeccable timing steps off, also swinging higher and further until the two are in synch.
The dramatic moment comes when the first performer lets go, not able to see exactly where his partner is, and reaches out, trusting that his partner will be at just the right place, and will grasp his arms and swing him safely to the other side.
Just thinking of such a moment makes my own stomach clutch, and my breath catch! It also makes me realize how apt Tournier’s image was: life is a matter of letting go and reaching out, again and again.
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, testifying “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 image of his journey is not that of the trapeze performer, but of the runner. He writes to the Philippians of all that he has lost (his “gains” of respectability and morality) to gain Christ and be found in him. “Forgetting what lies behind,” he writes, “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.” (Philippians 3:13,14)
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: of friends moving away, or dying; of my young associate moving on; of my brother-in-law Billy reaching his 95th birthday but growing weaker; of the traumatic death of my dog Wrangler, who has been my close companion for nine years.
“I feel that everything is going away,” I told a praying friend, “especially as I grow older.” She surprised me by asking, “What time does God’s store close?”
“What?” I said. “What time does God’s store close?” she repeated.
I thought back to the jewelry store my parents had in Canada, which closed at 6pm every day except weekends. Then I realized: God’s store does not close! His grace is available 24/7 for every letting go, and every reaching out.
I began to write in my journal each morning, “New every morning,” looking for signs of God’s “opening grace” each day. And often his hands reached out in some way to catch and hold me.
As I look back over my life I can remember many painful partings, letting go of “attachments” which had seemed absolutely vital, and even wondering whether life would be whole again. But God was calling me through loss to gain, letting go of the past to enter into God’s future.
Each of us has certain “attachments” in our lives, whether habits or people, or even addictions or possessions which we clutch for security. And each of us is ever and again called to “detachment” in order to trust God more.
I suggest you ask these two questions as you embark on your Lenten journey”
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 “gains” or normal patterns of the last year? Try holding out your hands, visualize in them those concerns, close your hands and then turn them over and open them, as you do 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 – let God.
Charlotte, North Carolina