Tending the Soul: Releasing Life

Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.   - Luke 23:46

As we talked together about parenting our girls, a friend asked, “At what age did you start releasing control over your daughter’s life?”

I thought for a moment and then asked him to clarify: “Do you mean my illusion of control over my daughter’s life?” We laughed, thinking about middle school. I thought for a bit more. “Maybe when she was a week old?”

Maybe earlier than that. By the time my daughter was hours on the earth, a wave of awareness stunned me – that I cherished her life more than my own. How was it possible that such unfathomable love nestled itself into the little dip between my chest and shoulder? Five pounds of hunched up creature, no bigger than a skinned rabbit, now consumed me - drawing more love out of my pores than I knew I had. When the nurse scurried her off for a procedure my breath halted. My tiny daughter was so terribly fragile. Would she be ok? I let her go (as if the nurse had even asked permission). Of course my little one was ok, like seven billion babies on the planet have ended up ok.

One week later, she wasn’t ok. Her breathing rattled and her face reddened by the hour. In Bangkok’s smothering heat, in shacks near our place, I’d watched babies slide away quickly. Would we make it to the hospital? Rush hour traffic held our taxi in its grip; people on foot moved past. One week of life was wilting in my wife’s arms, and I was helpless to manage its ebbing.

Along our span of life on earth, our two clenched fists open. The unclenching may come voluntarily or otherwise. Once again, my baby daughter turned out fine. Very fine indeed! But little did I know I would be releasing, releasing, releasing her life – season by season and year by year. Unclenching my control, willingly or not, and my illusions of it. (Granted, in middle school, my daughter felt I had not yet begun this process.) What grew in lieu of control was love, impossible as it seemed to be any more in love than during those first hours of her life.

Little did I also know, the years would bring me to release my grip, again and again – with each of my four children and on other fronts of my life. Sometimes I unclenched gently, willingly. Sometimes a dark event arrived as a war hammer to the midsection, jarring my hands and heart open.

Sometimes I unclenched gently, willingly.
Sometimes a dark event arrived as a war hammer to the midsection,
jarring my hands and heart open.

Spiritual teachers have long stressed the importance of "dying before you die." The little deaths we all undergo, if we allow them to teach and shape us, prepare us to face the great passage of death we likewise will all undergo. 

If Centering Prayer is a meditation practice of yours, you know it to be essentially a quiet act of releasing. Most likely, dozens of little releasings of thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the few minutes you are seated with your eyes closed. In the releasing we give assent to the presence and movement of God, beyond any of our own attempts to manage and control.

Releasing is uncommonly difficult, in matters large and small, so as a beginner you were probably tempted to give up. If you stuck with Centering Prayer, maybe for years, you’ve done tens of thousands of releasings – exercising your spiritual releasing muscles, which might be thought of as the opposing muscle group of the clenched fist. Whatever your struggles during your little Centering Prayer sessions, you’ve probably later discovered yourself more free in the flow of love, out and about in your world.

A few weeks ago in our Centering Prayer workshop a friend asked, “Ok so when I’m doing the releasing thing with my sacred word, what if something really good comes to mind – like a new spiritual insight? Can I hold onto that? I shouldn’t let that go, right?” I suggested hmmm, maybe we can trust such things to be there afterward, so that we may re-engage the gift of insight more openheartedly. Good things can be far tougher to release than bad, and more subtle in their seductions to over-grasping and over-controlling. Fear of loss may crimp our fingers and strangle the very thing we cherish, including life itself!

Which brings us to this day we call Good Friday.  We find Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the struggle of his life, which was precisely the act of releasing his good life. The agonized cries, the drops of blood. All his days leading to this day, he had practiced releasing, “not regarding equality with God a reason for grasping.”1 But here was the big one, the great releasing that will confront every one of us without exception. “Not my will….”2

Did he imagine this as he taught us, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it”?3 On this day of anguish, divine and human were joined in the great releasing. The passage of death was revealed as the way of life, the great redemption.


For Soul Tending

Is there a good thing in your life you are being called to release? What are your fears in doing so? What can you trust in the process?


Scott Dewey, director of Centering Way, is a spiritual director and community chaplain.

Scripture references: 1. Philippians 2:6    2. Luke 22:42    3. Luke 17:33