It's that time of year again. As I drive down a tree-lined street, I'm captured once more by the beauty of the greens and yellows, the oranges and reds and I am drawn back to another time. It was a time when I was struggling with many changes in my life and I felt disillusioned, vulnerable and helpless. As I walked through a forest of Autumn trees, I felt drawn into an experience of revelation, of mystery. As I held that experience, reflected on it, opened myself more and more to it, I felt impelled to respond in writing.

My journal holds some of the depth of that moment:

“The Autumn leaves are turning to Winter leaves
and there's a touch of sadness and desolation
as the golds and oranges and reds go brown and fall
and the trees stand bare.
It's like a destruction of beauty
and I feel a panic inside of me
as the long months of “death” loom up.
But the beauty of the stripping and showing forth of the tree
in all its nakedness and honesty
is gradually emerging
and there's a sense of “BEING WITH” a sacredness,
an awesome happening -
a happening of WAITING, DEPENDENCY,
EMPTYING, RECEPTIVITY,
PATIENT HOPE and a KNOWING TRUST.”

Each year the abundance of Autumn colours captures me and I experience the Mystery of that first encounter. Once again, I hear the deep call to trust that each loss in my life holds the seeds of new life.

Right throughout our life journey, we are called to enter the Autumn trees experience of letting go. In order to come to birth we had to let go of the security of the womb. We've had to let go of the securities of each stage of our life in order to grow and mature as adult beings. We've had to let go of people and attachments and possible choices in life. Sometimes we had no choice in our letting go - we've lost loved ones in death, or lost possessions through accidents or disasters, or jobs through redundancies, or we've lost strength and health through illness.

All these outer “letting goes” also called for an inner letting go which involved a time of grieving, of allowing ourselves to feel the pain, the confusion, the anger and the sadness over the loss of what had been taken from us. Through our experiences of life we've hopefully come to see that the inner journey of letting go is always a movement towards life.

One of America's modern spiritual writers, Joyce Rupp, says,

“That each letting go in our lives summons us to grow to greater fullness, to a more complete transformation of our inner self. .... The more drastic the change, the more potential we have to grow; to discover another aspect of our inner selves that we haven't known before. Much of this growth depends on whether we give ourselves to the process of change or run from it with our fears and insecurities.” (Rupp, 1992, p.134)

How we dealt with and deal with the experiences of our losses whether they be large and obvious losses or smaller hidden losses is one of the critical factors in our happiness or unhappiness as we age.

While we all experience the journey of letting go during our lives, in the latter part of life we are faced with a multiplicity of losses that touch the very core of who we are. These losses occur on every level of our being - physical, emotional, mental, spiritual - and they are especially difficult because we've devoted most of our life acquiring and developing and nurturing the very things that we may be called to let go - jobs, competency, control, a home, financial security, children, friends, health and fitness. Elderly people in today's world are also faced with other losses. Values that were important in their lives are not always considered as important by society today. There is a loss of respect for Church and/or religion. For many in our world, God and faith are no longer relevant. With the increased violence of our world there is a loss of security. In some circumstances elderly people are no longer seen as the “Wisdom” people - technology has advanced so rapidly that now it is the younger people who “educate” the elders in so many areas of life.

Each of these losses can affect our feelings of self-worth. Whatever has formed a significant part of our lives becomes part of who we are and when we let go of those significant aspects it seems that part of our very self dies as well.

Our response to the invitation to let go holds two elements and we tend to move between these two sacred experiences until we come to peace:-

  • the normal human feelings of recognising and treasuring and holding on to what has been important to us;
  • and our deep spiritual desire to surrender, to let go and step out in trust, allowing God to fill in some new way the emptiness we can experience as we let go of what has brought life to us.

The invitations to let go unfold through our normal life experiences. This calls for an awareness of what is unfolding and a co-operation with God's transforming grace, a grace that will bring life out of all loss. While there are many common elements in our journeys, letting go is very personal as each one of us is unique and our journeys unfold in a unique way. God's relationship with us and our response to God are also unique.

Our journey of letting go, particularly in ageing, leads us to place all our security in God's love and faithfulness. St Paul reminds us that though our physical being is gradually diminishing our inner being, our spiritual being, is renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 4:16) Jesus is our model for the journey. Right throughout his life, Jesus showed us how to let go. His whole life and his death were a giving over to the power of the Spirit working within him. We too, can come to see that the world is saved not through our success but through our letting go in union with Jesus. It is through our letting go, our emptying, our trusting, that God accomplishes great things. The diminishment of ageing, then, can become a means to life for ourselves and our world. Our elderly can speak so much to us of acceptance, of peace, of trust, of gratitude, of the value of being rather than doing, of all that is truly important in life.

We are invited to walk the pattern of Jesus in our lives, the same pattern shown us by the Autumn trees - to let go in trust and await the mystery of new life, again and again and again.

 

Reference:

Rupp, Joyce. (1992). May I have this Dance. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.

 

Yvonne Parker is a Good Samaritan Sister, who ministers in the area of Spiritual Direction and retreat work, especially the Season of Hope Retreat for the elderly.

 

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