Letting go is a ruthlessly practical matter.
Actors get bound up by inhibitions, fear, and wasted muscular tension. Relationships go south because wrongs committed become posts to wrap fists around. New careers go unborn because persistent, outdated self-perceptions just won’t fade.
At this juncture in my life–one more sermon to preach, a new play rehearsal period beginning tonight, projects stretching in front of me that are as yet undefined–I’m wondering out loud what needs to be released in order for what’s coming to get a fair chance.
Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
One day, a young man who had probably heard Jesus speak, had perhaps seen a miracle or two, and at the very least had been rocked by the tales of this man from Nazareth, chased the ragged band of transients down and knelt at the feet of the leader. Catching his breath, he asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There’s an exchange about just who is good, and a commandment or two, then Mark’s gospel gives us the small detail “Jesus loved him.” Then Jesus gives him a simple answer to a simple question. “Go, sell everything you own and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then, come follow me.” The rich young man, terribly disappointed, turned and leaves, and the Christ explains to his followers it’s just hard to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, especially if you’ve got lots of money.
Yesterday, in my sermon, I framed this story by freezing on the moment in time in which the young man heard Jesus’ answer. He faced, and made, a decision. Would he let go of what he had in order to gain the treasure he had found? Then I proposed that we, both personally and as a church, are this young man, splayed at Jesus’ feet, asking, “How do we find the kind of life that will last? How do we beat death? How do we live the way you do? What does Kingdom living look like, the kind of living that has God and love written all over it?”
I’d hoped to hold “Love” and “Letting go” in tension, implying a relationship between the two, especially as it relates to the felt experience of receiving love. In the end, the young man missed the fact that the most astonishing love was creating a world in which it was perfectly safe to let go of his former treasure. He didn’t notice this organic compassion, the move of Jesus’ heart toward him. Blinded by the threat of having to give up what he knew, what he’d fought for, perhaps the only thing in life that was really his, he missed the experience of love. By clutching the past, he missed the treasure he was really looking for. The life of the Christ moved on, and the text gives us no indication of what happened to this young man, but the implication is that he never lived out the answer to his question, never found the life that beats death.
Thinking back over the sermon, I’m not sure I said what I meant to say. What I meant say was this: the act of “letting go” is a key to the love of Christ becoming an experience of felt reality. Like actors, we have “blocks,” mental, emotional, and physical states of being that inhibit our ability to receive and respond fully to what’s happening around us. Mental and muscular tension tie actors up in literal knots, and as we grip our riches, our guilt, our ambitions, our pride, our pasts–whatever, our muscles are tied up, and we are unable to receive the new life of love the Spirit is incessantly pouring into those of us who believe. For actors, untying those knots is critical. Release through training and discipline allows creativity, nuance, and full-hearted freedom to inform the acting moments, and until the blocks are dealt with and released, the power of their full imagination and humanity will not come pouring in.
Sounds like the old metaphors…empty the cup to fill it, open the hand to receive, die to live. The practice of letting go daily sounds a lot like cross-carrying.
If the rich young man had given up his riches, not only would he have found life, he would have experienced, in his heart and bones, the love of God.
What must a church give up to allow the experience to pour through it into the lives of the its surrounding community?
What must I let go of in order to experience that fullness of the love of the Christ that Paul was talking about?
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19
Maybe that’s closer to what I meant…