Being Born and Letting Go

 

Being Born and Letting Go

Sermon at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Belmont, MA

 

17 February 2013

 

Rev. David M. Bryce, Katharine A. Canfield, and Edwin F. Taylor

 

READING

(read by Eloise McGaw)

She Let Go

 

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

 

She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions

 

swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her. She let go of

 

all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

 

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go. She didn’t search the

 

scriptures. She just let go. She let go of all of the memories that held her back. She let go of all

 

of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward. She let go of the planning and all of the

 

calculations about how to do it just right.

 

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her

 

Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the

 

weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

 

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

 

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t

 

utter one word. She just let go.

 

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one

 

thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

 

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was,

 

and it is just that.

 

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew

 

through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

 

~Rev. Safire Rose

 

 

Being Born and Letting Go

 

KATHARINE:

Today we talk about transitions in life. Stories about change are as old as the book of Genesis,

in which Adam and Eve were forced to leave Eden, as described so poignantly by John Milton in

Paradise Lost.  Milton writes of the departure from the garden:

Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;

 

The world was all before them, where to choose

 

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:

 

They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,

 

Through Eden took their solitary way.

 

While not all changes are as momentous as the exodus of these archetypal figures, we too

 

will have our share of loss, uncertainty, and beginning again. We can expect, if we live long

 

enough, to pass through birth, puberty, middle age, and into old age. These transitions occur

 

whether we are ready for them or not. Other transitions we choose: a profession, intimate

 

relationships, whether or not to have or to adopt children. Still other transitions, some difficult

 

ones, come to many of us: losing a job or a marriage, recovering from addiction, giving up on a

 

dream, building a new friendship, coming to terms with a chronic illness, and countless others.

 

This morning we focus on just few of the transitions common to many. There are a multitude of

 

others we will all face; some major, some less so. Some will be losses that take years to recover

 

from, if at all. Others will be transformative, either suddenly or gradually, over time.

 

EDWIN:

Each major life transition leads into strange territory, a new country, which forces us

to look around with fresh eyes. Each transition is a kind of birth, an involuntary adventure that

 

forces us to let go of comfortable habits. Hence our title: Being Born and Letting Go. We see

life’s transitions as a sequence of compulsory commands: “Let go of the past! Be born–now!”

 

KATHARINE:

The first transition is, in fact, birth. We leave the warm, dark, completely sustaining, embracing womb and one-ness with our mothers to face the cold light of day and the need to wait for comfort and food. These earliest days of life outside the womb are just the beginning of our lifetime journey of letting go. For mothers, too, the baby’s leaving our bodies is the first step in separating from our newest beloveds – a gradual letting-go that will play out over decades for both parents and children.

 

DAVID:

On my first day of kindergarten my mother took me to the school for the two hours or

so of class time. I remember the boy who cried loudly during the entire time. But I thought things

 

were just fine.

 

On the second day of kindergarten my mother took me to the bus stop. I got on the bus and

 

looked out the window at her and saw that she was crying. Suddenly I was scared to death; my

 

mother was crying! What’s gong to happen to me? I cried all the way to school.

 

Thirty two years later I put my daughter on a bus for her first day of kindergarten and, as the

 

bus pulled away, I cried.

 

EDWIN:

If we are lucky, as a child we live in a family that is loving, empathetic, and that

celebrates our accomplishments. This celebration extends to our First Church community: In our

 

major musical there is a often a smallest participant who wanders out onto the stage, looks

 

around vacantly, falls behind his line of tiny actors, flubs his small solo, but gets the last three

 

 

words right, and everybody cheers and claps. This is wonderful, but cannot last. At school,

 

teachers insist on objective performance, bullies roam the playground, and friends become

 

competitors. Like Adam and Eve, every child is expelled from the Garden of Eden and loses the

 

blessings of innocence

 

I did not enjoy my adolescence. I was totally disoriented and had no idea who I was or how

 

to behave. My hormones urged me to actions abhorrent to my Puritan background. No doubt my

 

parents had at least as much trouble with my adolescence as I did.

 

We are proud of our church for offering to our young people the Our Whole Life sexuality

 

course, called OWL. In adolescence our children begin to make decisions for themselves, which

 

can frighten parents. When Carla and I met parents before we started teaching our OWL course,

 

we said to them, “When your children make these decisions about sex, we will not be there and

 

you will not be there.” Eloise McGaw growled, “I will be there!” Sorry Eloise, your son is now

 

making important decisions for himself.

 

KATHARINE

For parents like me and like many of you, a new stage in life begins when our

children leave home. For those of you who aren’t parents, you may be able to identify with the

 

empty nest phase if someone who was once central to your existence is no longer part of the

 

routine you’ve come to rely on. At these times, we’re forced to let go of our beloveds’ physical

 

presence and rebuild our daily lives without them. While this new chapter

can be liberating, we may also experience loss, as we realize that our relationship with our cherished companions has forever changed.

 

My daughters are now in college. One evening last fall after a church meeting, I stepped

 

outside into the cool dark night. A light blanket of leaves covered the ground. Suddenly, I found

 

myself re-living similar nights years ago, leaving church with my young daughters after choir

 

rehearsals. As I walked toward the car, I was flooded with memories of earlier times: Evenings

 

of bustling energy as I witnessed my girls’ active participation in this community – a community

 

that was all the richer for me because I shared it with them. Today, even though I remain close to

 

my daughters, talking and spending time with them often, I sometimes yearn for the years when

 

our beings were more intertwined. Life now is good in many ways. Yet my purpose has shifted

 

and doesn’t feel as clear any more.

 

EDWIN:

I did not ask to be born again into old age, and I do not like it. I take way too many

pills and consult way too many doctors; my knees are shot and my memory fades. Rapid

 

conversation is incomprehensible to my failing ears. I will not climb a mountain again, at least

 

not with these knees. I hate being physically fragile and am terrified of mental decline.

But often I shout at myself: “Taylor, stop whining! You live in one of the world’s great

 

medical centers during the golden age of Medicare. So you’re old? Get used to it!”

 

Letting go in old age can actually be fun. The recently-installed roof on our house has what

 

are called “40-year shingles.” In 40 years I will be 121 years old. I no longer take personal

 

responsibility for each and every evil in the world. It is a great relief to let go of these

 

responsibilities.

 

Though short-term memory is a problem, long-term memory is a welcome companion.

 

Carla says, “We’ve got to go back to Florence, Italy!” I say, “OK,” then lean back and close my

eyes: I am in Florence.

 

Old age has an aura of poignant loss for me, but matched with a gentle sense of completion:

 

 

Finally! I know who I am.

 

I know what I want.

 

I know what I can do and I am doing it.

 

For me, age brings a wistful regret. If I had only known at age 31 what I know now and had

 

pursued my goals then the way I do now, the world might have benefited more from my life than

 

it is likely to at this point. But regret yields to reconciliation:

 

I have done what I have done,

 

I am doing what I am doing,

 

and in the words of that great philosopher, Popeye,

 

“I yam what I yam.”

 

KATHARINE

From my emptying nest and other times of loss and letting go, I’ve learned a

couple of things that have helped me to manage transitions. First, as hard as change can be, I’ve

 

come to see that my experience of it is constantly in flux. Sometimes this is small comfort, but

 

the older I get the more I trust the universe’s tendency to lighten difficulty with gradual healing,

 

a new understanding, or another chance.

 

Second, while my struggles are my own, I don’t have to bear them by myself. I can find

 

others to offer solace and companionship.

 

Finally – and this is my most recent lesson – I am learning to be more tender with myself.

 

This makes it easier to allow the various feelings that letting go brings and to move through them

 

with greater ease and acceptance.

 

DAVID

Transitions in life, we all know these moments; small moments of dying and of being

born.

 

The greatest transition, the greatest letting go, is death. When a loved one dies the loss is

 

devastating; when we think of our own dying, the sense of loss can be paralyzing.

 

For me, as for many of us, death is the end. It is the end of consciousness, the end of

 

relationship, the end of life. I will return to the earth, to the cosmos from which I arose; but I

 

shall not be.

 

To know that we will never again feel the warmth of the sunshine, or feel a breeze in our

 

face, or hear the voice of a loved one is too overwhelming a thought to fully absorb or

 

comprehend; and it leaves me feeling a kind of anticipatory grief and nostalgia. I suffer from the

 

transition before it has even happened.

 

We have differing beliefs about what happens after death. While I have no belief in

 

ongoing life, and mourn the fact that there are things I will never see or know, I also believe that

 

I did not exist one hundred years ago and have no fear associated with that lack of existence; and

 

when I project one hundred years into the future, I have no fear about my non-existence then. So

 

I do have a sense that I arise from the Cosmos and return to it and that this is part of the story of

 

life. Still, I already miss what I will not live to see.

 

For some us there is life after death of some kind.

 

•It may be eternal life in heaven;

 

 

•It may be in a form of rebirth, a reincarnation on this planet or elsewhere;

 

•It may be in a less formalized sense of one’s spirit living on in some unspecified manner.

 

To hold such a belief is a great comfort in the face of death. It means that there is a

 

possibility that we will see our loved one’s again or that we ourselves will continue to know joy

 

or love. Finding comfort in our own belief system is part of our journey human beings and as

 

Unitarian Universalists.

 

But beyond our personal theologies and beliefs there is or can be other comfort.

 

Community can help us. Shared Ministry is a term you may have heard here. Partly it is

 

about recognizing that in community that we can find healing and strength.

 

Religious community offers us rituals of transition. It offers us a place to be with others in

 

community as we acknowledge the great transitions in life: birth, coming of age, marriage and

 

parenthood, loss and death.

 

But more than rituals, religious community offers us a place of support and strength as we

 

pass through the transitions of life. And it offers us support and strength when we either choose-

 

-or find that we do not have the opportunity to choose–one or more of those transitions.

 

When we share our joys and sorrows, when we share the moments in our lives that build our

 

spirits or tear at our spirits, and when we listen to the sharing that others do, we strengthen

 

ourselves, we strengthen others and we strengthen the bonds of community.

 

That is one reason for a common suggestion in our Unitarian Universalist congregations that

 

every committee, every group or program in the congregation begin its meeting with at least a

 

brief check in. It is to strengthen the bonds of community and shared ministry.

Sometimes we try to cope with transitions or life events on our own and, ironically, it is

 

sometimes those who are most willing to help others who are also the most reluctant to accept

 

help from others. I would urge us all to find ways to share our life stories within this

 

community, not just to bring hope and comfort to ourselves, but also to do so for others.

 

Life is a continual process of being born and letting go. How can we support one another as

 

we go through these transitions? A few thoughts:

 

•We can be open about our own transitions; that lets others feel free to do the same.

 

•We can join program like the Small Group Ministry program where we give and receive

 

support.

 

•There is a Lay Pastoral Care training program coming up for members of the team who

 

will provide pastoral care and build connections.

 

•The Caring Connection is seeking volunteers to be committee members and to be care

 

coordinators for those for whom we provide meals and rides

 

•After candle lighting, let people know that you saw them light candles that you heard

 

what they said.

 

How will we support one another within this community?

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

 

Jacquelyn James, Eloise McGaw, Niti Seth, and Wayne Wild gave us helpful advice on this

 

sermon.