It is that time of year again. As we go deeper into fall, I must surrender summer, the season I always seem to long for. Yet I realize in doing this, what I am surrendering is the mythical summer, the one deep in the recesses of my memory. In that summer, the days are warm and sunny and endless. There is no school and time puts no constraints on the opportunity to play and wander the neighborhood. I can walk to the lake and spend an afternoon watching the sun sparkle brightly off the little rippling waves. Or I can sit up in my warm stuffy bedroom and read for hours, with no one disturbing me. There are fireworks on the fourth of July and long car rides through the country ending at Grandma and Grandpa's. And Grandma will have baked sugar cookies for us. That is the summer of my soul.
Yet that summer slipped away countless years ago. Grandma and Grandpa are long gone from this life. And summer is no longer a liberation from all responsibility - as I like to remember it. Still, there is something in me that longs for summer each year, thinking, "I'll do this during the summer", with the idea that I will have more time then. Then, as summer leaves, I mourn that I did not seem to really experience it as I had hoped. It has escaped me again. I could not resurrect the myth and then hold onto it so that this time it wouldn't get away.
It seems that life is constantly changing. Sometimes it seems like I am constantly losing someone or something. It may be something simple, like the holiday I looked forward to being over. Or it may be something overwhelming, like there never being another holiday with the one I loved. Either way, life keeps changing and I cannot hold on to anything really. Anything or anyone may be taken away from me at any moment and life will never be the same.
Often, particularly when we are suffering, we see the changing seasons of life like this, a sort of surrender not unlike that of the battlefield, a painful giving up because we are broken and have no choice.
Yet there is another sort of surrender, one that leads us into hope. For the constantly changing nature of our lives also means that the bad parts do not last forever either. When I am mourning my mythical summer, I am forgetting the miserably hot, humid days and the night when the power was off, leaving the 90 degree air unmoving. But when I do remember, I can breath deeply of fall's fresh cool air and find beauty even in the wind and rain.
And so it is with the other parts of our lives. The changing seasons remind us that our physical and emotional pains do not last forever either. There is a mercy that took my Grandpa from the nursing home at 87 when in his dementia and depression he no longer smiled. There is a mercy that will also take my parents from this world, much as I do not want to lose them. Someday, that mercy will come for me too. We cannot always see the Mercy. Oftentimes we do not want to surrender. We cannot see any point or see how our letting go will bring us new Gift.
Oddly, the surrender that leads to hope is the one that completely empties me out, where I give up holding on to anything that I want or desire. But unlike the other surrenders, forced upon us when the battle is lost, this surrender is one we offer out of love, surrendering our very being like one lover does to another. Only this surrender is not to another person, who like everything else will come and go, but to the One who is the begining and end and the endless, Creator of the life that is our core.
Many of us, if we were raised with any sense of God, were raised with a notion of God as a supreme being outside of us and that it was our sinfulness that separated us from him. Since we inevitably do wrong things, this notion may leave us feeling that we are always just about to lose what ultimately matters most. While many religions offer a remedy to this separateness, it may leave us feeling at times that God is the one who takes away, that forces our surrender. How often I hear mourners lament, "why did God have to take him/her from me?". This sort of God forces separation on us, separation from him, separation from those we love, when we aren't good enough for him.
This is not the God I believe in. The One I believe in has never been separated from me and has loved me from the moment of my conception. I believe he lives deep within each of us, the very Being of our being, waiting for us to discover him. Sometimes I imagine his presence within to be like a tiny seed in me, upon which I (and the world) have heaped so much that I can no longer see that the seed is there. Longing for a Presence and not seeing one results in the perception that we must be separate ... and it must be my fault.
Certainly I am a sinner and my faults and failings lie heavy on the tiny seed. But also heaped upon the seed is so much else: unhealed wounds, mindless distractions, angers, hurts and guilts, both deserved and undeserved, wants and pleasures, pious thoughts, attention-seeking ego longing to be loved and admired, all kinds of busy-ness, some of it doing "good" things and some just squandering of precious time. All that is heaped on the little seed convinces me that I am separate from my God- until I start the emptying out. The surrender.
This surrender is the one I choose. The one that longs for nothing and no one more than Him. The emptying is indeed a labor, a clearing away, a letting go, a forgiving of myself and others. It is a healing and a hope. For as I allow myself to be still and empty of all else, I discover that He is there, that He has always been there. And I discover that He is in all others and all others are in Him, so that nothing has really been taken away.
Now, here, in my imperfect life, I cannot fully see or understand. Loss still frightens and hurts. But there is a greater Truth, a sacred Truth, that beckons. I will learn to be still and open... I will begin again and again.
Please join me.
(photo taken on this rainy day in autumn...)