Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072
Children's Chapel: 10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
Letting Go of Summer
Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, September 9, 2007
As many of you know, there used to be more trees in the backyard of the parsonage. (If you didn’t know that, it’s a long story.) But thankfully, not all of them were taken in the arborial holocaust of March 29, 2004. I’m glad that they missed a few of the trees, at least—especially a particular oak tree of which I’ve become somewhat fond over the years. It’s not the largest tree on the lot, or the oldest, or the tallest. But it’s there—a living, growing presence—just to the left of the picture window in the living room. If I were a polytheist (which I’m not; one God at most is plenty for me)—but if I were a polytheist, there’s a very good chance that that tree would be one of my gods. I can see how our pagan ancestors could have worshipped something like that tree: it has such dignity about it; an air of permanence; it’s been around longer than us; it’s seen things we haven’t; it’s somehow more deeply rooted, more in touch, with our Mother Earth than we are.
But that oak tree isn’t my God, of course. It is, to me, just a tiny manifestation of God’s grace and power. I certainly don’t pray to it. But I have talked to it on occasion. Especially when I have been “thinking on something”, that tree in the backyard has been a help and comfort to me. I just like to look at it sometimes; and just doing that, somehow, can help me to find the word (or words) I’m searching for; it can help unblock these clogged-up intellectual and spiritual and emotional arteries, more often than not.
So it was this week that I noticed that, among those thousands and thousands of leaves on the branches of that tree—Did you know that a large maple tree, for example, can have as many as three million leaves (it always feels like three million when you’re raking them; well, it is!)—I noticed that the leaves on the branches of that tree extending closest to the deck in the back yard were already tinged with color: not just a few leaves here and there, but entire branches had already changed. They weren’t green any more; no, they had already become a deep, reddish-brown. Some of the leaves-- a good number actually-- had already given up their clinging, and had fallen from their branches, and were now lying on the back lawn (harbingers of so many more to come, certainly).
Early this year, I think, nature’s lovely death dance of fall has begun once again. Summer is over; or will be soon.
Many people, myself included, love the summer—and there is much in summer to love. But it has always seemed to me that fall is the season which best symbolizes the bittersweet essence of human experience. Spring is too new; too young and untried. Summer is too proud, too haughty and self-absorbed. Autumn—fall—that is what life is all about. Fall reminds us that life is about change. All of us are changing all the time, and changing in all ways. The world keeps turning; the universe keeps expanding; our bodies, our minds, our relationships are in a constant state of movement, growth, and change.
To change means, in essence, to let go. In so many different ways, my friends, we have to learn to let go. "We are always saying goodbye in this world,” said Adlai Stevenson on the death of Eleanor Roosevelt, “always standing on the edge of loss attempting to retrieve some memory, some human meaning from the silence -- something which is precious and is now gone." This is perhaps the most important lesson we human ones need to learn.
When we cling to that which has come before, we run roughshod over past, present, and future alike:
We romanticize the past and deny its pain—and in so doing, we ignore the very real lessons the past has to teach us.
We rob the present of its joy. Instead of enjoying together the glories and wonders that the present offers us, we will continue to yearn for that perfect past—those “good old days”—which probably never really were.
And we rob the future of its possibility. By closing the door on one stage of our lives, we open the door on the next. Letting go is all about hope of what will come next.
“The river [of life] delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go,” wrote Richard Bach. “Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.”
May we learn to accept the gifts which life offers us gracefully, but never too eagerly; never grasping or clinging or hoarding them. May we hold them lovingly in our hands and cherish them while we may. But may we then let them go, and give them away, just as generously as we can. For it is in sharing our gifts as widely as we may that they truly will come to life, life for all time.