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
(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
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
Transitions in life, we all know these moments; small moments of dying and of being
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
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
•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?
Jacquelyn James, Eloise McGaw, Niti Seth, and Wayne Wild gave us helpful advice on this