This past Sunday I preached on the topic of letting go. I spoke of how autumn with its fiery array of falling leaves is a good reminder of the need to let go of things that no longer serve us.
There were two ways of letting go, I pointed out. One is like the trees let the leaves simply fall away without attempt to make them stay or keep them attached. The other type of letting go is when we need to unlock the grip we have on something so that it can be let go.
At the end of the sermon I asked everyone to write down some things they needed to let go of on autumn-colored paper leaves that were provided them. I told them I would take them and burn them, like we do with leaves that we rake in our yards.
I told them to crumple up their paper leaves like a dried, crackling autumn leaf and then to just throw them! I said we didn't need them anymore and with these leaves allowed to fall, we make room for new growth.
It was a cathartic moment, with crumpled up leaves flying across the Great Hall, people laughed and whooped and applauded themselves; for their willingness and their courage to let go.
That same evening, I gathered with folks from All Souls at Ft. Carson to participate in the Run for the Fallen. This local effort was a supportive gesture to the national Run for the Fallen in which participants set forth from Ft. Irwin, CA and travelled to Arlington Cemetery, VA to honor the women and men who have been killed in Iraq (http://www.runforthefallen.org/). This non-partisan event was another way of letting go, I think; a cathartic moment of dealing with the incomprehensible loss of over 4,000 US soldiers.
The event at Ft. Carson featured the 200+ soldiers from that base who have died in Iraq. Each of us was given a placard to wear with the name of a fallen soldier. I pinned mine, with the name of Spc. Nicolas E. Messmer on my t-shirt and went to join my friends in looking at the two large banners displaying pictures of those whose names we bore. Stephanie, whose husband Larry is currently serving in Iraq, pointed to the photo of one young man. "He was in my husband's command," she said.
I tried to take in the photos, the lives cut short, and found myself shaking my head in sorrow. I wondered, what was it like for Stephanie to view those pictures? What about the people, clearly members of the family of a fallen soldier with matching shirts proclaiming the stats of their loved one's too short life.
I thought, too, of the Iraqi citizens -- more than 60,000 -- who have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I wanted to be dictator for just one moment, to declare a cease-fire, to bring all of our troops home, to patch up the landscape of war with hope and healing and peace.
We walked around the track, then, about 3 miles, a line of people over 1,000 strong. Some were soldiers themselves; some had served in Iraq and watched friends die there, others had orders to go to Iraq. Some were family members who had lost a soldier, others, like my friends and I, were there to honor those who had fallen and to wish and pray with all our hearts and minds that we might never see a familiar name or photo on that terrible banner of death.
It was a moment in time, a solemn reminder of how transient life really is.
How we're called to hold life with such care and such love.
Last night, I took the basket of crumpled-up leaves outside and put them in my firepit. As I lit them and watched them catch fire, I silently said, "You've been released. We bless you for your presence in our lives. Thank you for what you have taught us and for preparing us for new life. Go in peace, as you go the way of all the earth."
Leaning back on my heels, I thought again of the faces on those banners, the names printed on our placards. I thought of Spc. Nicolas E. Messmer and all the other fallen lives. And as I watched the smoke spiraling into the sky, I silently echoed those words to those women and men, "You've been released. We bless you for your presence in our lives Thank you for what you have taught us and for preparing us for new life. Go in peace, as you go the way of all the earth."