Three weekends ago we let go of everything and drove up into the mountains of Jamaica for an afternoon. And as the road wound its way upwards my heart unwound the layers of it’s cocoon and my lungs breathed deeply the cool mountain air; The air of presence in one moment, that moment, right there, right then, in the now.
As a family that day we breathed out, and as I breathed in again a realisation dropped into my heart like a rock into water, spreading ever growing rings of thought. That time, that space has not left me, the memory of it swells outwards lingering in the hallways of my mind, calling me, reminding me of other thoughts and prayers that have haunted these dusty corridors for a while.
The now was what we experienced that day. And that now, well it’s what I crave. Its what I thirst for. How I long for more of the now, perhaps because the now is not where I usually live.
I live in a world of broken moments. Moments unseen. Moments missed. Moments trodden underfoot. I have been in the busyness business and in this frenetic pace of life the now is nowhere.
My husband has had a bucket full of broken toys. He is constantly asked by my children to ‘fix’ things. Once when Zoë was about four I commented on the pothole pocked roads here in Kingston. So great was her faith in her father’s ability to fix things that her immediate response was “Well Daddy can fix it”.
The problem is, daddy can’t fix it. Not this ‘it’ of a struggling community in a struggling developing world country where there is too much violence and not enough resource. Not this ‘it’ of a small charity with not enough income and not enough workers to even make a dent in the issues before our eyes. And my husband’s hair that once was ginger-blonde is now silver-grey because he has spent twenty years of his life trying to ‘fix it’, the it that won’t be fixed. And now these years he has spent, well there are days when they have spent him, and there’s not much left of either of us some days to find the now.
And as the rings of thought ripple outwards I gradually see that in all our strivings and drivings we have been stretching ourselves inside out; The brokenness in us trying to fix the brokenness all around. And around is how we go on the hamster wheel of our own efforts, our drive to succeed driving us in circles. Around and around we go, but never still.
And the brittle shell of my cocoon it makes it’s lists. Because listing it all down gives me the illusion of control. To do lists, shopping lists, meal lists, goal lists, work lists, email lists, gift lists, lists of things to do and people to phone, jobs to tick off on my stairway to success. But my lists become guilt drivers and soul sliders pushing me to achieve, they become the hooks to hang my identity on, the trophies to tell me I might be okay as soon as I get it done, that one day I might be good enough, successful enough to ‘fix it’. And around and around we go, but never still.
And the scripture says,
‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).
And what does that mean anyway? But now these rings of thought encircle me and I know I am starved for the lack of now. And I know that somehow still and now, they go together.
And all these thoughts whirl through my mind when I go to visit a friend, and she sits in her arm chair (which looks like a huge marshmallow hug) and tells me of her friend that has just been given a terminal diagnoses of death within five years. And the rings of thought that began that day in the hills grow ever stronger, like waves encircling my heart and further and further out they swell.
If these were my last five years, how would I want to live? Would I really want to have lived out my to do lists, or would I have wanted to live more in the now with the ones who I spend this patch of time with?
Death has a way of changing the way we see. Like a clear spotless looking glass helping us see past our skin through to ourselves, through to the core of who we are and what actually really matters to us when we are not wrapped up in our lists.
And I think again of him, this friend of mine, a friend more like an uncle. He had this way of loving people and loving God and speaking truth in gentle loving humour. And how he loved to laugh, his beard all red and gold and his eyes creasing joy, grinning warmth. I think of him often.
And how we felt so much the loss when he died of a brain tumour years ago. The day he passed a hole was wrenched out of the fabric of reality like a gaping wound that could never quite be stitched back; the hole of where he had been. Many of us had prayed, oh how we had prayed, banging fists on heavens door, wanting his healing like nothing else on earth. But it did not come.
He had seemed less bothered than we, though I am sure it was a hard road he walked. I suspect though, long before the rest of us, he had come to terms with his dying.
I remember talking with him one day before he passed, one of the last conversations I had with him. He said that suddenly, as never before in his life, he saw things differently. All the colours were brighter, deeper, richer, more vivid. He saw more, noticed more, beheld more… On the edge of losing everything, he seemed to gain something else; eyes that saw somehow more fully, more presently, more richly. He had let go, let go of his life, and in the letting go he had received back life in a different way, a different way of seeing.
Maybe this is what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said
‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’ (Matthew 16:25-26)
In the losing, there is a finding. In the letting go, a receiving. Perhaps It’s what we hold onto that make us the walking dead. My fist of lists that tie me up in knots, trying to fix the whole world, while forfeiting my soul, exchanging my soul for a hamster wheel.
GK Chesterson, well I think he agrees when he writes “How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.”
Is it the greatest irony or just a mean joke that the more we hold onto ourself, the more we loose ourself in the drivers of our soul, but when we let go, we find we loose nothing, but gain everything?
Is that the secret that my friend learned before he left us, that letting go actually brings a gift; a heart freed to really see, freed to really be in the now? Is it that when we let go of the life we think we need to live, we receive back the life that we were missing all along. We receive the gift of seeing… the seeing and the being in the now.
I guess when we let go our hands are already open, ready to receive.
One of the columnists in the guardian recently reported that over this past Christmas while they were away their home was damaged irreparably by the effects of smoke from a fire next door. And she comes to the surprising realisation that the loss of all their ‘junk’ and a break from watching all the news was a liberation more than a loss. ‘I am liberated from caring about a whole heap of nonsense that turns out not to matter.’ (The Guardian 29th December 2017)
Perhaps after all living fully is just letting go and realising that now is enough. Now is the miracle. The here, the now in these small moments. Being fulfilled is being fully filled… completely … having enough. But I only find this now, this new kind of seeing, when I pry my fistful of fingers open and let go. And I realise that letting go is a liberation and not a loss, a liberation from a ‘whole heap of nonsense that turns out not to matter’.
And when this happens, when I let go, something else happens. An unexpected gift… suddenly I start to see again. The scales fall from my eyes and I see… differently.
And this liberated living with eyes wide open, well it hurdles the trenches of my identity and connects me to my core, my centred centre. It gives me back my heart. And being in this now… it is a defiant war cry against the constant avalanche of ego needs and perfectionist drivers of my soul. A battle plan against my to do lists that frankly aren’t that effective at getting me to do things anyway.
But I can only let go, when I know that someone else hasn’t. Like a trapeze artist trusting the monkey grip of their catcher. Letting go is an act of trust! And that’s when the rings of waves splash on my mind’s shores and I fully begin to grasp the meaning of that verse, the one about the still, well, it grasps me, and I am held; ‘Be still and know that I am God’ .
Because he is God. I can still.
Stilling myself and remembering it’s not all up to me. I don’t have to fix it. I can’t fix it. I don’t have to perform, perfect, or achieve. I just have to still, and know.
And I look out through our door, the light pouring through the bottle brush, the breeze floating gently in its swaying branches, the humming birds, they all conspire and liberate me to let go. Let go of all I fear and all I use to prop up my identity.
And I feel this wild jailbreak take place in my heart, a violent rebellion against my hamster-wheel-ego, and ignoring my lists, I follow this tug to wander outside and play with my children, and I know that this revolutionary act is saying to God, ‘I know you are God and not me’.
Letting go is an act of trust. It is saying God is God, not me and he can be trusted. And because he can be trusted I can let go…and rest, play, be revived and restored. I don’t have to fix it, control it, perfect it. I can let it go, drop it into his hands and walk away. And in doing so my children get back a mother that can see and love them more freely, more patiently, and my husband gets back a wife with an anchor in her soul, and our work, it has a labourer with a rudder on her boat; And that rudder, it has nothing to do with lists.
And just in case I forget. Just in case I forget that day when the rock dropped in the water and opened my eyes to see, well I find there are all these lifelines all around me. CPR for the soul. Threads of light and life that pull me back to earth, the real earth, the one we return to when we return to our senses.
And as I breath these in I awake again to wonder, and all this wonder whispers, reminding me ‘Be still, know that I am God’ not you! Not your lists, not your ambitions, not your anxieties, not your needs to achieve, not your ego. I am God and I can be trusted. So you can step off your hamster wheel and rest. Let go. Be still.
And I put my lists away and step outside and join my children in their play. I breath in deep and breathe out slow. The hummingbirds dart in the bottle brush and the evening is all gold with the ending of day.
I see the city lights come out one by one like newly born constellations and I know that I am here; Here in the now.