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Let It Go (A New Nativity)

Have you ever been in the grip of something? Something that wouldn’t let go of you or that you couldn’t let go of?

Have you ever felt possessed or been obsessed by something? Or, after doing something, asked, “Whatever possessed me to do this or that or the other thing?”

What about being gripped by fear? Or overtaken by anger? Or grief? Or anxiety? Or stress? Or lust—that is, an overwhelming desire to have something or someone?

Have you had the experience of being in the grasp of infatuation—that is, something that felt like love but was more like fear of being deprived of the object of your attraction?

Have you ever been possessed by an addiction—that is, something that once gave pleasure but became more about fear of being deprived of it? We tend to think of drugs or alcohol in this regard, but it may be something as ennobling as our work, our convictions, our causes, even our compassion. (Yes, compassion! We know compassion has “possessed” us when we experience burnout in its wake.)

Once I was looking for the remote control and I became absolutely obsessed with finding it right then and there. “What was that all about?” I wondered later. Surely the margaritas earlier in the evening did not help. But there was something more. As I get older, I misplace more things, I have greater difficulty finding things, and I don’t like it one bit. I was gripped temporarily by anger at myself, gripped for the moment by fear of losing my faculties, gripped by anxiety over loss of control that the remote symbolizes in our age. After all, it is called the remote control!

My obsession with finding the remote alarmed Wade and some friends who had joined us to watch a film together—and I apologized. Where was my Christian calm? Where was my Buddhist detachment? What happened to my “spiritual” demeanor? I’m a “propagandist” for the contemplative life, for God’s sake—why do I let the “things of this world” trouble me so much?

Well, you know, we’re all “works in progress,” as they say.

I invite you to make a fist with one hand, as tight as you can. Put whatever anger, stress, or fear you can into that fist. Do you feel the blood being squeezed out of your hand along with all of its oxygen that feeds the cells?

Now keep it clenched and, with the other hand, try to open it. No luck, huh? Now release your fist slowly. Feel the blood flowing again, bringing oxygen—breath—into its flesh. With your other hand, gently massage your hand, caressing its palm, running fingers along the inside of the fingers that have been clenched. Feel the pleasure of it. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. Take another deep breath and imagine that breath coming into your heart and radiating through your blood vessels to the palm of your hand, then to the tips of your fingers.

Almost all of us at one time or another become like clenched fists. The agenda of a day may slowly constrict us. Worries at work may cramp us. Expectations of others or of ourselves may constrain us. A diagnosis may confine us. Anxieties about world events may restrain us. We need release.

Last week’s Midrash referenced one possessed by an unclean spirit. In an encounter with Jesus, the unclean spirit convulses the man, screaming, and releases the person from its grip. What may possess one person for a lifetime may possess any of us for a moment. We all need release.

Nowadays what was understood as unclean spirits are neatly catalogued by doctors and therapists in diagnostic manuals. Treatments and medicine are prescribed. This gives an illusion of control—knowing what it is, knowing what to do. But control is not release. Jesus releases. He does not simply control.

Think of the fist you just made. Your other hand may be able to control it, but to open it requires another strategy that inspires the cooperation of the clenched hand.

This may be a new way to comprehend our selves as Christ’s body. Mystically we breathe in his Spirit, even as he nourishes us and quenches our thirst. His breath, body, and blood flow through us, unclenching our minds, our hearts, our hands. Jesus is born again in us into a world desperately in need of release.

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