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Letting Go - An Ascension Day Reflection

Letting Go

An Ascension Day Reflection
Fr Steven Young, 13 May 2021

I don’t cry very often, but when I do cry it’s usually a sudden explosion of chest heaving sobs.
Yesterday afternoon, I knelt on the bathroom floor and began washing my beloved dog Lupin for the last time. I sobbed. That morning, I’d phoned the vet to discuss ending his life.
Lupin is 15 years old and now totally blind. Within the last month Lupin is no longer interested in going out for walks and his food, which he previously ate as soon as it was spooned into his bowl, remains untouched. Within the last few days he is not even interested in going into the garden.
Christian, my ten year old son, wants to hold Lupin as he is put to sleep. The greatest heartbreak will come when Christian, and I, finally have to let Lupin go.
Perhaps that is why Lupin, who would never previously refuse anyone a cuddle, no longer asks us to hold him. Lupin has become increasingly withdrawn. He now sleeps in his basket almost all the time. In his own way, Lupin is preparing us to let him go.
When the resurrected Christ appears to Mary Magdalene at the tomb the first thing He says to her after calling her by name is “do not hold on to me”. Under the circumstances, I have always found this jarring. But this calling, to cease clinging, is perhaps the kindest of all Christ's commandments. That of course, does not mean that letting go is easy for any of us to do.
It’s impossible for us to fully appreciate Mary’s grief. In the space of less than two weeks she has seen Jesus triumphantly enter Jerusalem only to be arrested and put to death. Any story Mary had for how things were supposed to be had totally disintegrated. In desolation, Mary goes to grieve at the tomb. Just at the stage when she thinks. “How could things get any worse?” Mary discovers that the tomb itself appears to have been ransacked. Jesus is not there. The only possible explanation Mary can conceive of is that Jesus’ body has been taken away.
If there is one line of the gospel that never fails to make the goose bumps rise up on my skin it is Mary’s expression of despair to the assumed "gardener". “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him”.
“They have taken away my Lord.” Mary cries. And then, as soon as her despair is uttered, there is the living Christ standing beside her. Calling her by name. Naturally, Mary’s first response is to cling to Christ like a mother embracing a child she who was lost. And yet there is the response of Christ. Touch me not. Noli me tangere. “Do not hold on to me because I have not yet ascended to the Father”
Mary is not only the first to experience Christ’s Resurrection – she is the first to hear of His coming Ascension. And notice, it is the Ascension Jesus calls Mary to proclaim not his Resurrection. “Go to my brothers and say to them “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” In other words, prepare to let go.
Jesus knew that suffering stems from our reluctance to let go. Unless we let go of the outer form of physical incarnate Christ we cannot receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, the divine presence within us, and all creation.
Every year at the end of our Ascension Day service we have a huge beautiful cross shaped helium balloon bobbing away by the altar throughout the Mass. The balloon is weighted down so it cannot fly away to roof of the church but at the end of the service the whole congregation goes outside the church and we let the balloon go. Together we watch as it soars up into the sky. What we are striving to express symbolically is the moment of awe and wonder when the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven. “As they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
None of this is possible unless we let go of the balloon. I suppose we could decide that it is too pretty to let go. We could decide we want to try and keep the balloon forever, but, within a matter of days, the balloon would start to deflate. The helium would lose its potency and the balloon would no longer be able to soar more than a couple of inches off the floor. We also could love the balloon so much that we hug the balloon so tightly that it pops. In the end all that we would have left to hold onto is rather sad crumbled up bit of shiny foil. Like so many other areas of our lives; people, stuff, experiences, status, roles, relationships, if we are to truly marvel in their ability to ascend, we need to stop clinging and let them go.
Like the disciples we need to hear the words of the two men in white robes standing next to them “People of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” To love is to let go and to let go is to love. Love can never be diminished. Love is never lost. Love always returns, perhaps in a different form, but always in the same quantity.
Love is within you, the gift of the divine, the in dwelling Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit only comes when we let the outer form of Christ ascend. Nothing can ever be taken away from or added to this infinite, timeless presence of God within you and every other created being.
You are a child of God within whom the Holy Spirit dwells. This is the essential nature of your being. This consciousness or presence of being within you is beyond anything that you can see or touch or conceptually know. A childlike faith is required to trust that this is who you really are.
The act of childlike faith required to dwell in awareness of our true self can be scary. It can make us feel small and powerless to let go of all that we thought we were. So rather than face this fear, we cling on to anything and everything we can see and touch and ultimately “hold on to” that we think will define us.
We can cling onto anything. I am my thoughts about who I am. I am my feelings. I am my relationship. I am my painful past experiences. I am my good name. I am my shiny brand new car. I am my body. I am my looks. I am my state of physical or mental health. Another form of clinging is comparing. "At least I am not him" or "I'll never be as good as her". All comparisons, whether favourable or unfavourable, rob us of joy and reinforce the misconception that all we are is separate egos encased in a layer of skin. We can make Jesus nothing more than an extension of this ego in disguise and refer to him as our "personal saviour" a divine embodiment of all our liberal (or conservative) prejudices. Or we could just go down the well trodden road of superficiality - which in some ways is safer. "At least my skin is less wrinkly than theirs!" We might start to think... and so, hopefully, you see the absurdity of the situation.
It’s not that all these aspects of our form identity aren’t important. They are. They should be honoured, tended and respected. But ultimately, all of these things are just ripples on the surface of the infinite ocean of our being. This infinite ocean exists as the divine within you. The same in-dwelling divine being within all creation. If we mistakenly think we are nothing more than the ripples at the surface we will certainly turn them into tidal waves in our mind. Yet all the while there exists beneath these ripples an infinite expanse of often unexplored depth. If you want to dive down you need to stop treading water and surfing your ripples. Diving is the same as ascending - up or down – you need to let go.
What are you clinging to? In which areas of your life do you need to let go and let God? And what is stopping you? If we are honest with ourselves all of us will have some answer to these questions.
The Ascension begins for each of us when we let go and let love triumph over fear. Fear is what causes us to cling but faith in the unconditional love of God and the divine presence within all creation enables us to let go. Jesus has gone before us and shown us the way. He who did not cling to equality with God but emptied Himself taking the form or a servant. Jesus has shown us that what looks like death is actually the beginning of new and abundant life.
Let go. Let God, and dwell in the abundant life to which all of us are called. And please pray for Christian and me as we let go of Lupin. X
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