Lenten Reflection Four: The Strength to Let Go
We are on a Pilgrimage. These posts are published here periodically and on Facebook on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Take time to disconnect from your daily rush to read, reflect and journal.
Leave it Behind
Pilgrimages are as much about what we leave behind as about where we are headed. Relinquishment precedes destination. At a literal level, a pilgrim learns to leave unnecessary things behind to lighten his or her load. More deeply, pilgrims walk away from familiar versions of their self to discover their soul. The “first half” of our lives are shaped by necessary external securities, providing structure and formulas of belief. But religion often stops there, freezing us in place. The test of faith is to walk forward into our “second half,” in a journey of service expressing our true self, mysteriously hidden in God.
Question: Whose life am I living?
“Let Go and Let God”
Honestly, that phrase can sound like one of those superficial spiritual formulas. But it holds a deep truth. Truly walking away from accomplishments which inflate the ego, and comfortable securities of belief which smoother questions, requires relinquishment and faith. As James Hollis writes in Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life:
In the second half of life the ego is periodically summoned to relinquish its identifications with the values of others, the values received and reinforced by the world around it. It will have to face potential loneliness in living the life that comes from within….No wonder so few ever feel connected to the soul. No wonder we are so isolated and afraid of being who we are.
Exercise: Review the story of Charles de Foucauld (see below) and then pray his “Prayer of Abandonment.”
(Change the gender language if you wish.) Pray it again. Listen to what it may ask of you. Record in your
journal, and share, if you feel free to, with others.
From “Without Oars” The story of Charles de Foucauld.
Charles de Foucauld was born in Strasburg France in 1858. Orphaned at age 6, he was raised by his grandfather, who imparted parted to Charles faith in the Catholic. Eventually studies and experience shaping his development caused him to depart from religion. The death of his grandfather left him a rich financial inheritance. He joined the military, becoming an officer, and was sent to Algeria, a French colony. Captivated by the culture, and in a conflict with his superiors over a romantic affair, he eventually resigned from the army and settled in Algiers.
Europeans were generally forbidden in neighboring Morocco. But undeterred and leaving previous securities behind Charles spent 11 month walking for 3,000 kilometers, or 1,800 miles, through the country disguised as a Moroccan Jewish rabbi. Returning to Paris, Christian faith became vividly alive for him, and he embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, spending Christmas 1888 in Holy Grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Seeking an abandoned devotion to Christ, he became a Trappist monk.
But Trappist stability couldn’t contain Charles de Foucauld’s wandering spirit. In 1901 he was back in Algeria at Beni Abbes, committed to living a simple life among its inhabitants, striving to be in solidarity with the poor and nurtured by the eucharistic presence of Jesus. Four years later he journeyed further into the heart of the Sahara Desert. settling among the Tuareg people for more than a decade. Charles translated the gospels into the Tuareg language. His desire was to form a confraternity, or Catholic order, of those who would follow a witness of presence and solidarity amidst non-Christian peoples. His life was cut short when the effects of World War I reached Algeria. He was martyred by bandits connected to those fighting the colonizing French.
A pilgrimage marked by abandonment led Charles from comfort and wealth in Paris to poverty and vulnerability in the Sierra desert. He didn’t plan this, but he rather simply tried to follow and kept moving forward in consistent downward mobility with a radical faithfulness rarely witnessed. He had the strength to let go.
I first learned of this story when working on Capitol Hill and exploring life in the Church of the Savior in Washington DC. It was there I read Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment.