June 9: Prayer as Relinquishment

Prayer as Relinquishment

Deuteronomy 34: 1-5

June 9, 2024

          What is prayer?

          For the past few weeks we’ve been answering that question. Of course, the traditional response is to say that prayer is request. But we’re looking at prayer in a deeper and different way this time.

          Two weeks ago, I talked about prayer as awareness. Prayer helps us notice the presence of God in the midst of our ordinary days. We look around or look back and notice God’s treasures and gifts. God is not simply in heaven, far away. God is here with us and in here. The prayer of awareness helps us see the burning bush.

Last week I talked about prayer as empowerment. Prayer helps us discern God’s direction for our lives. Prayer empowers us to embrace our dreams. Prayer empowers us to claim our gifts. Prayer empowers us to express our voice.

Today, we look at prayer as relinquishment. We let go. We shed our attachments.

As the parable says: If you hold the bird too tightly you’ll kill it. If you release your grasp, and it flies away never to come back, it wasn’t really yours. If it comes back, you receive it as a gift.

We see this prayer of relinquishment in action in the last speech given by Martin Luther King Junior when he said:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

At the end of his life, Martin Luther King Junior is referencing our Scripture reading today. It’s about Moses on the mountaintop at the end of his life.  

Can you imagine Moses on that mountaintop? He’s been heading toward this promised land for forty plus years. God had called Moses to do this work of leading the Jewish people out of Egypt and into the promised land of Israel. Moses has been working so hard to see this happen. Now Moses is close to the finish line. But he won’t be able to cross it. He can see it. He can almost taste it. But he has to let it go. Moses has to let go of his dream. He must pray that prayer of relinquishment.

This prayer of relinquishment seems more appropriate the older we are. I know I pray it more often these days.

I like Anne Lamott’s take on all this. She is in her mid 70’s now. She tells the story of a phone call she got from an old friend from childhood calling to say he was hurt by something she had said. Let’s listen to Anne Lamott tell her story:

“He insisted I had dissed him to an unnamed friend. I expressed how terrible I felt that this had hurt him, and that it was a dumb misunderstanding, and how much I loved him, and asked if we could get together to talk it through, but he said no, he wasn’t ready.

I was stunned. I sat there awhile, partly to think about how to win him back and get him to forgive me but also because to get up from being seated on the floor, I need either a hand or some furniture to lean on, and found neither. I started to do a sowbug, roly-poly move that I’ve developed, where I roll to my side and push up off the ground, but instead I lay there, sad aged old misunderstood sowbug me.”

Anne Lamott continued telling her story: “My reflex was to mount a defense. My Jesuit friend Tom Weston once said that he never noticed he was angry, just that he was right, and I acknowledged to my husband that I was both – angry and right. He shrugged, smiling: Yep.

Any loved one’s anger at me feels life-threatening at first. I waited for him to call and straighten things out, but he didn’t. After a while, I rolled awkwardly to my feet like a ton of bricks, went to the kitchen and was eating my body weight in cheese when something suddenly came to me.

It was a dawning realization that this problem was, with a little time, going to sort itself out. I almost smote my forehead. Yo! That had not occurred to me. It was going to be okay. I actually smiled.”

Anne Lamott continued: “This is one superpower of being old: You know that things are probably going to work out without your tense, controlling input. Maybe you won’t get your way, which I hate, but the roiled ponds of misunderstanding and hurt will settle.

Older age gives us the knowledge of how powerless we are — not helpless so much but with little control over life’s results.I don’t love this. You come to forks in the road where you think, I can’t bear this, I can’t do this, I can’t fix this; I see no reason for hope.

But then, if you are old, you remember countless other falling-outs, other miserable patches with people you love, where peace was restored. I believe in the resiliency of relationships, even if I struggle not to be initially devastated every time I disappoint someone.

This is the main advice I give younger people who get troubled and stuck. I say, “Yes, it sounds really awful. Just do one good thing, and then another, and breathe. You’re going to be okay.” I tell them what John Lennon said: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

So I got on with the day, trusting again that, as my husband says, life tilts towards the good.”

Anne Lamott is pointing us toward that prayer of relinquishment. We let it go. We shed our attachments to getting it perfect and looking good and being right. We open ourselves to the unknown. We move toward the mystery, the cloud of unknowing, the uncertainty of it all. In the mystery of our emptiness, we discover a treasure.

Each of these messages I’ve highlighted some spiritual practices we might engage in to foster this type of prayer.

The first spiritual practice that we can utilize to live into this prayer of relinquishment is the practice of Sabbath. Sabbath has to do with taking one day a week and setting it aside. We relinquish our need to work that day. We don’t need to be productive or do anything significant that day. We relinquish that day to rest and enjoyment and time for noticing God.

For some people, it is Sunday. I know historically that’s the day most people have used for Sabbath in the Christian tradition.

But for me, I’ve always worked on Sundays. Therefore, I’ve taken Friday as my Sabbath. I don’t go into work that day. Instead, I take my journal and hike in a woods. I sit down along the trail someplace and write in my journal.

For a fully retired person, every day can feel like a Sabbath. It’s not easy not to set aside any day as special. Every day is a day without work. But I think it can be helpful if we still set aside one day a week to relinquish our to-do list and pick up our to-God list. Even retired people can take a Sabbath.

A second spiritual practice related to relinquishment is Centering Prayer. Other ways to describe this type of prayer is contemplative prayer or mindfulness meditation. It has to do with emptying our minds of thoughts. It might include focusing on one word like Love or Spirit or Christ. Or focusing on our breathing. Breathing in for a few seconds and letting out our breath. But mostly, it’s about letting everything go. Letting thoughts go. Letting thinking about the future go. Letting worries about the past go. Just sitting in silence.

It can be helpful to do something like this on a daily basis. Maybe you set a timer and meditate for twenty minutes a day, or just ten or maybe just two minutes daily.

During this time, you relinquish any need to accomplish anything or figure out anything or do anything or even pray in the traditional sense.

It’s about sitting in the loving presence of God.

Let’s practice doing this right now. We’re going to sit quietly for a few minutes. Let’s relinquish all and just be in the loving presence of God.

          (take two minutes of silence)

          A third spiritual practice that enhances the prayer of relinquishment is using our hands. We offer to God our prayers of petition and concern while holding our palms up. Then we release those prayers, we relinquish those concerns as we turn our palms downward.

          When we come to our time of prayer today, I’ll invite us to do that. We’ll start out bringing our concerns to God with our palms up. Then we’ll relinquish them by turning our palms down.

          It’s a physical way we can pray that prayer of relinquishment.

          This summer I think two of our church children are going to be in a production of the musical Frozen. There’s a song in that Disney musical Frozen that was popular a few years ago that goes along with this message. Anyone know the name of that popular song?

 The song is entitled: Let it Go.

I’ll read the lyrics and you’ll say the words: “Let it go, let it go” when I point to you.

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I’m the queen

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

(point) Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
(point) Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
I’m free

(point) Let it go, let it go
I am one with the wind and sky
(point) Let it go, let it go
You’ll never see me cry
Here I stand and here I stay. Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back, the past is in the past

(point) Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
(point) Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

Let it go. It’s the prayer of relinquishment.

For our special music today, Crosby Bearden will be playing the piano.

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