By Reverend Dr. Tess Baumberger, Board Certified Chaplain
Some part of me has always wanted to be able to meditate but I’ve always had trouble sitting still. In seminary a class called Dance Meditation helped solve the problem because in this form of meditation you play music and move. They you journal about what you learned. Before you can do all this though you have a focus for your meditation. We were instructed to sit still in a quiet place and ask for the word that would become that focus, then you listen for the word. I did so and the word was “surrender.” “Hmph,” I thought. “There must be a mistake here. Surrendering is giving up, wimping out. It can’t be for me.” So I tried again, quieting my mind and asking for a word. “Surrender” came up again. And the third time.
So I sighed, put on some gentle music and focused on that dreaded word, and started moving. My body knew something my mind couldn’t fathom – that surrendering is a very active process. You have to work to surrender. It’s not a one-time thing because for me at least letting go doesn’t mean it’s not gone for good. It comes back, again and again. Sometimes I take it back again and again. It’s hard to let go of control or to let go of someone. Surrendering for me is a dance that is circular and repetitious.
Years later I was discussing this with a spiritual director who said, “Of course it’s an active process.” It was autumn then and she told me that leaves don’t just fall from trees. The trees actively push this year’s leaves off in order to set their buds for the following spring. Huh. There could be a lesson in that, I thought. Trees are forever teaching me lessons.
These thoughts turned into a simple autumn ritual I used in churches I served as a parish minister before transitioning into chaplaincy. I cut out leaf shapes from construction paper and passed them around to everyone. People wrote something they needed to surrender on each leaf. Then we ceremonially dropped the leaves. It was moving, to see people come to the front of the church and let each leaf fall. There were tears that feel as well. I later burned the leaves and spread the ashes under a tree. Like real leaves it would break down and feed the tree for the next year.
When we let go of something that’s limiting us we also need to call in something that will enhance our growth, like the trees setting their buds for the next year. The second half of the ritual the kind of flower bulbs that people plant in the autumn. These bulbs lie dormant in the long winter then grow and bloom into flowers from the warming earth of spring.
People thought of something they would like to grow in them as they held a flower bulb. After the service we planted them in a church garden, knowing these qualities might lie dormant for a while. Sometimes the winter is long. Sometimes it seems like it never will end. However some bulbs need only the merest warming to bloom. Snow drops emerge from the snow sometimes as do crocus.
So as autumn sets in and you face a winter of grief, may you find your own way to surrender whatever no longer serves you. May you know that this process of surrendering is active, circular, and repetitious. In addition to letting go please also plant something positive that you hope can come from this loss. It may be something you can share with the wider world, something you learned. It may take the form of some action for others. Whatever it is, may that something bloom in good time.
Chaplain Tess Baumberger joined All Care Hospice in 2015 but has been in the ministry since 2003, serving in congregations and as a hospital chaplain. She is a poet, writer, and knitter who loves cooking for her husband and family.