On Letting Go

Maybe it is by serendipity that Claire's previous post on her encounter with, and transformation through suffering meets well with my recent listening to a great set of CD's by Fr. Ron Rolheiser and Fr Richard Rohr  titled "Adult Christianity And How To Get There."

There are four CD's in the set and what follows are only rough explications and my own paraphrasing of content from the second CD with the addition of a few personal reflections.

Both authors describe the issues of the transformation that occurs between the two halves of life.  

They identify some form of suffering and severe crisis that of necessity seems to characterise mid- life transition. 

Rohr says that the subtle transition between the two halves has no one path. But suffering or some deep pain of massive crisis is one sure hallmark that triggers the movement.

There comes a time or times in our life when "the walls fall in and the roof caves in"- The mystics recognise the call as the "dark night of the soul" or psychologists may phrase it as "positive disintegration".

In Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway this quote is an apt one.

"The world breaks everyone and afterwards some are strong at the broken places." 

But sadly too are some that are left resentful, bitter and shattered by the experience of suffering.

The book of Job, the iconic book that describes the summit and source of suffering can't get any further than the final encounter with God who meets us at the end.

Ultimately, the problem and questions of suffering can't be dealt with intellectually.The mind will never find a satisfying answer to suffering. Only the letting go of the dominance of the thinking mind allows us a better chance of coming through.

If we do get through it then it has something to do with "presence."

The place where we end up painfully is a place where we have given up analysis, explaining, categorising or resolving and judging.We surrender our critiquing or attacking of it. 

It is in discovering a full presence to suffering that somehow creates a counter presence .

Presence is a relational term and involves letting go of the process of exorcising the demon. 
It does not involve scapegoating to remove the pain or anxiety. It does not involve introjection either.

Only by letting go can we somehow find the courage to hand it back.

But in there somewhere, is the mutuality of presence, and communion- No answers that can be described or explained fit, but for some reason in that place of presence we just "know" it's OK.

 People who have no experience of presence just keep processing it in terms of past and future, characterised by Why, Why and Why ?!

The heart of all contemplative practice is simply how to be present.

The suffering that takes us from the first half of life to the transformational experience of the second may be emotional, relational, or a physical death of some sort. 

Whatever it is, the suffering and crisis is marked by a resurgence of immense fear. What may be wrong can be associated with guilt, anxiety, shame and fear - and the concomitant temptation for some may be to reassert the old structures.

The rediscovery of old practices may call us back to recover some form of scaffolding experienced or inchoately perceived, during the first half of life, that we have perhaps discarded or shunned.

 But there is a danger here that we have to be attentive not to idolise the structures in the surety that we will then neatly fall into the hands of the living God. 

That is God's grace alone and the call for us is on some level just to let go and let God be God.

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Taking control is not the task in the transition involved in the second half of life.
The second task of wrestling with God and surrender to God is a more difficult wrestling match.

 It may be fear, anger, shame that first brings us to consciousness and whatever surfaces from the unconscious is a necessary primer but that has to be seen through eventually.

 Ultimately in the second half of life, the place we find ourselves in that we try and articulate is all about the language of surrender. 

The difference between the spiritual or religious and the secular person is that the latter has no one to surrender to or trust. 

If you have not had some real experience of God in the first half of life that you are not alone, and that life is not about you, then you will end up in the second half of life as an anally retentive, anxious and compulsive control freak . 

The nagging disquiet that accompanies the second half of life and the positive disintegration that occurs, entails us to enter the mystery of freedom and the woundedness we carry. 

Where we end up depends on how we respond to suffering creatively. 
Suffering can destroy.

Naming of the suffering helps.

Rolheiser quotes James Hillman who says "a symptom suffers less when it knows where it belongs."

and Robert Moore - "the difference when you go into the dark tunnel is if there is something or somebody who holds you, it can be borne.

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Jesus hung on to his father and had someone to surrender to. 

Rolheiser says it may be a person, a faith, an ideology or moral philosophy that holds your hand and carries you through. What is crucial is that you do not enter that long dark tunnel alone.

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In terms of religious and ecclesial life both Rolheiser and Rohr assert that we are in a major transition time of crisis in the West and North America.

We have run to the end of some grand cycle - the many hundreds of years of powerful building by Francis of Assisi and Ignatius and others have led us towards the end of a cycle and we are in an "upper room" of  sitting with the dilemma we do not as yet know how to resolve. 

                                                                Image Upper Room Source

We are in a phase of waiting and wondering where we go now and there are no easy answers.

Rolheiser says we need a new imagination, and he stresses that we don't need a new theological one. He says the best books on theology we already have - people like Raymond Brown and others in the last 30 years or so have renewed the church intellectually. ( I'll have to wonder about that because I believe there are gaps where women theologians still need to be heard.)

Rolheiser says what we need is a fresh romantic imagination of great artists and saints who can light fires inside of us; gospel artists who are also saints.

Francis was not a great theologian but had a tremendous emotional romantic vision and he was a saint. We have great artists today but they are not saints.

We are waiting in the upper for someone who can reconfigure our imagination and souls.

The younger generation in their generative phase are in need of structure and mentors who can service their particular stage and level of life into mission. This formation needs father and mother figures and constants or a high level of disillusion and dropout inevitably occurs.

                                                           Antony The Great and Paul the Hermit
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But Rohr also recognises that too much certitude, clarity and order can become a burden and that the institutional church has been guilty of over investing too heavily in inner structure .

Rohr recognised that in medieval times there were 1400 Franciscan hermits, the "wood dwellers" who lived alongside community but who were in a liminal space where they were allowed the important role to "ask questions."
The major dilemma facing the institutional church is that we have not found a way to affirm both stages of life.

The structural difficulties of providing the right boundaries and "ecclesial containers" where the interplay of the  processes of formation of all ages can take place is difficult.

Rolheiser states that the non-negotiable anchors of our faith are private morality integrity and prayer with affective devotion to God and also a place where the call to justice is heard and acted on. Rolheiser recognises that the it is difficult to carry these together and that we need some form of "rainbow coalition" to carry both.

The devotion we get from prayer and structure has to move to the big issues
but we need to give up the need to be right.

The ego has to be converted from the head space into the heart space so we act from  compassion and empathy, not the ego's need to assert itself.

Egocentric acts do not advance. The energy of oppositional stances should not be to humiliate or put down.
Rolheiser says we have to be able to act from a place where we can say :
"I HAVE to act without seeking the fruits of action.
If it truly is God's spirit within me it will always leads to the motivation of pure action, not from the need to win  and that always involves some form of letting go.

Rolheiser too warns of those who are esconced too much in the middle place. 
It is fine he says to hold the suffering and pain in prayer,  but some form of action is necessary for justice. 

We have to embrace some form of action or solidarity with suffering and injustice. 
He quotes Pope Benedict who says that justice is a constitutive part of the gospel .

If we are too trapped in holding the middle ground then we are likely to be trapped in a narcissistic concern for our own pain rather than concern and empathy for others.

Only when actions are from the heart can doing justice for the right reason follow not from places motivated exclusively by anger, bitterness or guilt.

The two speakers conclude with these two fine poems bringing together some of the energy involved in the themes of the two phases of life : structures, struggles, surrender, suffering and letting go.

Rolheiser uses the gender neutral translated word of "person" rather than "man" in the first poem's title and this can be carried through the poem by the reader for themselves by the inclusive his/her where appropriate.

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A Person Watching
Rainer Maria Rilke 

What we triumph over is so small,
and the victory makes us small too.
The eternal and uncommon
refuses to be bent by us.
Like the angel who appeared
to the wrestler in the Old Testament:
when his opponent's sinews
grow hard as metal in the struggle,
they feel to his fingers like strings
on which to play a depthless melody.

Whoever is conquered by this angel

when the angel does not refuse to fight
walks away erect and ennobled,
strengthened by that fierce hand
that, like a sculptor's, shaped him.
Winning does not tempt that man.
His growth is this: to be defeated
by ever greater forces.

Richard Rohr's choice of poem acutely and forcefully exposes and traces the path of the first and second phases of life.

                                                                Image by Ian Moore. Source

by Anne Sexton 
A story, a story !
Let it go. Let it come.
I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender
into this world.
First came the crib
with its glacial bars
then dolls
and the devotion to their plastic mouths.

Then there was school,
the little straight rows of chairs,
blotting my name over and over.

But undersea all the time,
a stranger whose elbows wouldn't work.
Then there was life
with its cruel houses
and people who seldom touched
though touch is all
but I grew,
like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,

and then there were many strange apparitions,
the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
and all of that, saws cutting through my heart,
but I grew, I grew,
and God was there like an island I had not yet rowed to.

Still ignorant of Him, my arms, and my legs worked,
and I grew, I grew,
I wore rubies and bought tomatoes
and now, in my middle age,
really about nineteen in my head I'd say,
I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eyeball,

I am rowing, I am rowing.

Though the wind pushes me back
and I know that this island will not be perfect,
it will have all the flaws of life itself,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door

there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside of me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.

God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.

As the African says:
This is my tale which now I have told you.
if it be sweet, if it not be sweet,
take somewhere else and let some return to me.
This story ends with me still rowing. 

A few extra thoughts and reflections

My own feelings here are that I agree with the diagnosis but a woman's point of view is important here to inform and balance the story.

For myself, I have been near breaking point and broken several times in my life, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

 I am still learning how to surrender to God and it is painful !

I also feel that women's voices on the struggle and surrender involved in the inner life and their experiences of menopause have a lot to say to the institutional church.
There is a need for womens' voices to be included to help to handle the energies  that are thrown up in the crisis phase the church finds itself in. 

 I suppose that this voice will always be considered and labelled as "feminist" by those who think females ought not to have a voice on such matters.

The dystopias we find ourselves in need a more sensual and feminine integration that honours the shift into the seasonal rhythms charting our years of life on earth.

Just as we have to individually let go of our illusions, our outdated defence mechanisms and egocentric dualisms of oppositionalism and the need to exclude and marginalise, so too the church if it is survive, has to be willing to seek integration and dissolve the boundaries that unnecessarily and unjustly place some people in the outer court of the Gentiles.

There are many people at breaking point !  

Rohr says repeatedly that Christ always defined his ministry in terms of knowing when to break the stultifying unjust "laws" of legalism that bound so many people in chains. Christ says The Law says..... but I say to you.....

I have a gut, heart and soul feeling that the romantic encounter and revivifying that Ron Rolheiser says is vital for the future of our church will not take place until the church fully embraces the spirit of the anima in all types of ministry and fully welcomes integration of homosexuality into the church and continues to act as a voice for the silent on the edges of society in all issues of poverty, social and economic justice.

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So here are a few quotes and poems to add, for those like myself who find ourselves in the upper room of life, waiting for the Holy Spirit and trying to let go !

Is there anything that I can do to make myself enlightened?
As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.

Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?

To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.
A Zen master to his disciple. Source

Murders are easy to understand.  But this:  that one can contain death,  the whole of death,  even before life has begun,  can hold it to one’s heart gently,  and not refuse to go on living,  this is inexpressible.

-Rainer Maria Rilke
[above excerpts from Richard Rohr's "Everything Belongs--The Gift of Contemplative Prayer"]

In the Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot writes ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality’. 

I suppose that the suffering and surrender we all face at some point in our lives is not just the reality of the pain of the cross which may threaten to overwhelm us but the much greater reality of God’s love for us.

I just wish that the institutional church was displaying more vital signs of that all inclusive embrace of the love of God instead of which it seems to be too busy dualistically filtering the love of God and separating people into" worthy sheep and reprobate goats."

 For that I grieve.

Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English mystic, writes: ‘I desired many times to know in what was our Lord’s meaning … and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning.’ 

 Julian realised the love which made Christ suffer is infinitely greater than the pain - and that is what we have to be present to when we fall into the loving hands of God that has no beginning or end but is now and ever shall be

In the face of that reality perhaps the feelings expressed by the poet, Edwina Gateley
come close to the surrender asked of us.

"In the face of your love I’m a coward to give.
Your demands, your totality, make me afraid,
Weak to respond to such strength and such fire,
Trembling to pursue a love so true.

Desiring, yet dreading, drawn reluctant
To a flame devouring, all consuming,
Taut with resistance against the love
That demands such self giving."

and finally this one, also from Edwina Gately

Image source
 A tall steel cross is refracted in raindrops on a window in Joplin, Missouri, on May 7, 2012. The cross is all that was left standing of St. Mary's Catholic Church, which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado that tore through a large swath of the city and killed 161 people nearly a year ago. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Disciple of Jesus

Disciple of Jesus, weary and silent,
aware in the darkness of challenges 
failed and longings unfilled,
remembering the passion that sent you forth,
young and bright, and fired with hope.

Disciple of Jesus, weary and silent,
world unchanged, its darkness still deep,
 dreams dispelled and visions blurred,
How is it now with you ?

Trailing behind me the sparkle and fire
of early passion,
bruised and tender from love's long thrust.
Now is the finest , greatest moment
and now the ultimate death.

For I, Disciple of Jesus,
to stand before my God, 
weary and silent  and all alone
claiming only, " I was there "

from the book I Heard a Seed Growing, (God of The Forest , God of the Streets.)
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