Friday, December 28, 2007

The Art of Letting Go - Sermon Given at the Jewish Center of Venice

Sometimes we clutch the past so tightly to our chest that it leaves our arms too weak to embrace the present.

In our ancient wisdom - we see stories of our ancestors needing to let go of the past; of letting go of all that is familiar; and heading into unknown wilderness.

Such was the case with Abraham when he was told to leave his birth country and all that he knew to go to a land that God would show him.
And echoed again by Rebecca when the emissaries of Abraham came to choose her as a wife for Isaac – she left her family and country to travel to a place unknown to her.
And tonight, we see that Moses is about to make a journey to free the Israelites and lead them through the wilderness; did he accept this job with enthusiasm? No Way! He had fears, insecurities, reservations – but he let go of them and accepted this challenge to follow God’s direction into a wilderness he did not know.
What does this have to do with us?
You already know, don’t you?

Each of us – I bet all of us – are clutching tightly to some things from our past – whether they be beliefs we cling to, or fears, or insecurities,
whether it be statements such as: I can’t because
or: we never did it that way

We probably all know folks who cling to bad or abusive relationships because of the fear of letting go and fear of the unknown; who stay in jobs that eat away at their insides and rob them of sleep, again, because of fear of uncertainty.
I recall a story I read years ago, that I have been unable to find recently, but I think it was by Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
It is told from the perspective of a small pebble that is clinging to the roots and branches on the side of the river – holding on for dear life –
bumping along
getting battered and beaten by the current

Eventually he meets another river critter who asks him why he is stuck, clinging to the side of the river.
The pebble is shocked by the question – of course – I stay here because this is my life - my home - my familiarity.
The river critter tells him that he needs to let go – that there is a greater flow within the river and that if he lets go and joins the flow, his life will be better.
The pebble did not want to hear of such nonsense – THIS is the life he knows – good, bad, or ugly – this is his life – so he clings to it.
Yet he kept thinking about the advice – he wondered what it would be like not clinging so dearly for his life –
And one day, he was bumped by a floating object and he gave up his grip –
and bumped along a little bit
and then began a beautiful freeing flowing journey – following the river – floating along, going with the flow.
His life from the moment he let go, began to blossom and good things began to happen for him.
Most of you have seen a portion of my journey into letting go of limitations and fears. As one example – for years I told myself that I could not swim; that I was truly afraid of water.
On vacation, I would wade into the ocean up to my knees, declare the water beautiful and go back to sit on a beach towel while others enjoyed the surf. At a pool, I was the one who sat on the edge with my feet in the water. This year, as I turned 57, I told myself that I would not be my own barrier. I would not set up limits for myself.
So I made a list of things I said I could not do – and began trying to do them.
Swimming was one – and now I am training to compete in the master’s competitions.
On my vacation last week, I was at the beach and did my usual walk to the water’s edge, and then went back to the beach towel to enjoy the sun. Then I said to myself: No way. Get up and get in the water – you have new rules now – so I marched right back in and for the first time in my life - I dove into the waves and allowed the waves to move me here and there – I swam, I floated, I surfed in the waves. I wanted to shout out to everyone on the beach – "Hey! Look at Me! I can do it! I can swim!"
But I knew that for them, it was ordinary – for me, it was liberating and a milestone.
I am still learning how to ride a bicycle – all in due time.
I say I cannot sing. This may be true, but I am not going to be the one who makes this decision – this is on my To Do list – to take singing lessons and let a professional decide whether this is a true limitation or a self-imposed one.
Let me give you another example about the beauty of letting go –
Take a sheet of paper and roll it tightly into a telescope and look at the world through this tube; what do you see? Small pieces of this and that, an ear of a person, a leaf on a tree.
As you loosen your grip – the more of the big picture you see – the more options you notice – and you will see that things are not as you initially perceived them. The world opens up for you.
By loosening our grip on this tube of paper – we open our view of the world around us. Just imagine the power of loosening our grip on our own prejudices and neuroses; imagine the power of letting go of our anger and hurt and limiting beliefs.
Each of us, like our ancestors, has our own journey through the wilderness – a wilderness of unknowns – a journey, if we choose to take it, out of our comfort zones.
As our ancestors left their comfort zones and followed God’s leadership – they set the path for the growth of our nation - and our people.
As each of us removes our own stumbling blocks, our limitations, our excuses —
we venture through our own wilderness – and as we find our way, we grow as a person. As we grow as an individual – we have more to offer to those around us.
We can teach by the way we live our lives.

In closing, I would like to give you a thought based upon advice from St. Francis of Assisi – he said, I want you to go into the world to teach, and if you must, you can use words.
We teach by how we live; by how we treat others, by the way we give of ourselves; we teach by example to our neighbors, our friends, our family – our children. Not in what we say – but by what we do.
Let us live our lives without self-imposed stumbling blocks – without limitations we set for ourselves with negative or limiting thinking.
Let us go forth into the world, and live vibrantly – in the present moment - mindful of the miracles and the blessings that surround us every day.
And let us be
a light unto the nations.

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