Our lives are surrounded by seasons and cycles – many of them clearly impersonal, predictable, and often taken for granted. But …
pointing us to a (not so) secret message from Life?
We often savour those last days of the season that’s ending – appreciating the beauty of leaves turning colour and falling. Or feel excitment in anticipation of the next – those first shoots of green emerging in the spring. We don’t get anxious and try to glue the leaves back on as they fall, or worry the trees are dead as they stand bare in the winter. We may feel Spring is taking forever to come, but we know it will!
Day and night, the waxing and waning of the moon, the tides, the planting, nurturing and harvesting of crops, the in and out of our own breath, or the circulation of blood through our hearts and lungs carrying oxygen to and removing wastes from the cells of our bodies – all of this goes on unbidden and often unnoticed by us.
But what if we did stop and notice this pattern of season and cycle?
changing cycles in our lives in areas that feel less comfortable?
There were many things my first father-in-law and I held different perspectives on, but as he was dying, we had a conversation that is as alive for me today as the day we had it nearly 20 years ago. He was a man of deep faith. He had a relationship with his God that was active, alive, and made a difference. In those last days before he died every moment was precious, and I was paying attention.
I asked him what it felt like to be dying. Characteristically he paused, going inside to retrieve the answer from his depths. And then he spoke. “I’ve faced a lot of hard things in my life – things that I had no idea how to handle, or what would come next. But God has been with me and every time, things have turned out better than I could imagine. So as I’m here now looking into the face of this next unknown of death, I turn to God and say “ok, here we go, into this next step together” and I trust that it too will be better than I can imagine.”
His many experiences of consciously paying attention to those less comfortable iterative cycles in his life had prepared him to face that ultimate unknown of death.
I’d love to be able to say that this story changed my life immediately, but it didn’t. In a way it couldn’t. We all have to make our own journeys, constantly creating and re-creating our relationships with ourselves, everything, and everyone as (in one way or another) we are brought face to face with the constant presence of change.
Along the way, how we pay attention and the way we tell our own stories matters. We can create (and re-create) nightmares for ourselves – finding ourselves stuck in Groundhog Day-like experiences or worse. But the stories we tell ourselves can also be wonderful reminders – like breadcrumbs along our path to remind us of the things we know to be true the next time we’re walking a challenging path. Stories can also be touchstones to come back to when we recognize a season or cycle is ending and we’re afraid to let go of the familiar, known, or precious.
That’s part of the value of celebrations and marking times for us as humans. Depending on which hemisphere you live in, we’ve recently experienced the Spring or Fall Equinox, and this week has been an important one in the faith calendars of both Jews and Christians – the marking of Passover and Holy Week. These reminders call our attention to the naturalness of cycles in our lives.
It’s SO normal, when we’re in the midst of delight to want to hold onto the moment, or in the challenging moments feel like they will never end! But like my father-in-law experienced, noticing and re-membering the familiar cycles in our lives is an important tool for helping us etch more deeply in our being-ness that this life-death-life, or beginning-ending-new beginning IS the natural cycle for us humans.
Community is crucial – like the trees,
we are all interconnected …
Of course we need to honour our humanity, feeling the (sometimes tsunami-like) waves of sadness or loss that wash over us as we turn toward the work of re-weaving the web of our lives, or step into the scariness of a new unknown. But can you imagine what it’d be like if, as we are able, we stepped away from making ourselves or the situation wrong? How might things be different if instead of making wrong, we focused our energy on appreciating and celebrating the best of what’s ending, noticing what we’ve learned, and the ways we’ve grown that cannot be lost? Or if we allowed our curiosity and attention to be drawn to noticing and nurturing what might be emerging?
As with so many of the themes I write about, having a community to turn to which has the capacity and commitment to be present to ALL the phases of these cycles – endings, beginnings, and all the parts in between – is crucial. We are not meant to navigate them alone. Sometimes we simply need to be held for a bit, to have our experiences deeply witnessed. And when we’re open to and ask for it, we need each other to remind us of the things we know to be true but can’t right now access.
I am reminded of a wonderful Macrina Wiederkehr poem from her book Seasons of Your Heart – Prayers and Reflections. It’s called
The Sacrament of Letting Go:
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go
first she surrendered her green
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her brown
shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky
she began her vigil of trust.
Shedding her last leaf
she watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the color of emptiness,
her branches wondering
How do you give shade with so much gone?
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
they kept her hope alive.
They helped her understand that
her dependence and need
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening
they stood in silence
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting!
If life has brought you to a place of letting go, and you’re looking for community to stand with you and ‘celebrate together the sacrament of waiting’, then at a pace that feels true for you, welcome. We are here, doing our own work of expanding our capacity to stand open, ready to receive the new kind of beauty that is always wanting (and waiting) to emerge – birthed through us – into the world. We’d love your company on the journey!