Recently I was at Cape Henlopen beach in Lewes, Delaware, with friends. It was a glorious spring-like day though still out of season. The beach was blissfully uncrowded. Just a few people were walking along the water. At least one was sunbathing. A few vehicles had been driven onto the sand and up close to the water. The drivers sat in their vehicles, their fishing rods propped up in the sand.
I set off walking along the water with one of my friends. We walked and walked, and talked and talked. We walked and talked until one of us said maybe we should turn back at this bend up ahead. As we turned, we could see our other friends in the distance. Well, actually we could see a kite in the distance. As we approached, we got a spectacular view of a colorful kite soaring above us.
As we neared, my friends who were flying that kite turned to me and said, “Would you like to fly her?” I took the spool as one friend offered some simple instructions—how to let her go higher, how to make her dance, how to bring her closer. As I took hold of that spool, I could feel a firm tug. It took me by surprise. This kite was nothing to take lightly, nothing to take for granted, not to be trifled with—nor was the wind carrying her. The physical aerodynamic pull was powerful and so too, it turned out, was the firm tug on my imagination.
My mind was quickly transported by the playfulness and power of the kite. I was captivated by the bright rainbow colors set against the blue sky. The ocean was rising behind me, sand cushioned my feet, and a light breeze made it all possible. There was the kite flying high above me. My dreams seemed set aloft. Dreams I hadn’t yet identified, didn’t even know I’d been dreaming, bubbled up. The kite was calling me to places my heart and spirit longed to go. I thought to myself that I might only be able to heed these stirrings when given some room to roam and soar.
I released the line and pulled it in again, wanting to see what would happen. I watched and felt as the kite resisted and then flew higher. I tugged and she tugged, and I released and she danced and then steadied. I gave her more slack and she rose yet higher. I imagined what it might take for me to give myself a little more slack so I too could fly higher. All the while I wondered as well what higher would look like and feel like, what this taking flight for me would entail.
My friend suggested to me that “if you turn around and stare at the ocean, the kite will still be there.” So I turned toward the ocean, kite above and behind me, but still with me. I could feel the truth of my friend’s words. The kite remained, held aloft by wind and tension, by being tethered and free. This freed me too. I didn’t stop paying attention to the kite. If anything my attention intensified. I had to pay a different kind of attention. My focus was now directed more fully to the tension of the string connecting me to the kite. I was feeling the physical connection without seeing what the kite was doing with my eyes. And there was no danger of the kite getting into trouble—no power lines or other kites nearby. When I turned back toward the kite, it was indeed still there. Slowly I began to bring the kite in. I wound the string around the spool—too fast at first. The kite resisted, the line growing tauter. I held steady, slowed my pace, as the kite invited me to listen more deeply, to attend to the rhythm of wind and kite, and my own rhythm as well. I was invited to more patience and more attention.
Slowly, steadily over 20 minutes or so I brought the kite closer and closer. I felt almost a sadness to rein in the free spirited kite. But slowly, steadily, I brought the kite in. My friends, as though sharing some unnamed emotion, reached out and embraced the kite before it could drop to the sand. They carefully folded the kite never letting it touch the ground.
Anais Nin says, “Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, or a new country.”
We do not know what will emerge when we throw our dreams into space. New friends, a fresh perspective, a new pursuit. So often what comes into my life seems like something I need to make happen through struggle or hard work. It feels like a matter of choice and will. It can be tempting to think in these terms. Some days we and the world around us look so desperately in need of improvement. It’s hard not to think about what’s needed that way. It’s hard not to focus on correcting problems and pursuing a course of action. Often the path we travel or try to travel is one of achievement and exertion to effect transformation.
Our UU faith encourages us to live boldly, to engage in acts of justice, to let the fire of commitment set us ablaze, and to transform ourselves and the world. I know we need to do and be all that. But isn’t it just possible we may sometimes get in our own way.
What if the ability to emerge is just as much about letting go and making space as it is about striving and hard work. Maybe it has to do with making a little bit of room in order to be receptive to new possibilities. Being open to what may come requires patience and trust. Mystery, too. The Swiss philosopher Henri-Frederic Amiel says:
Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the plowshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring, and reserve a nook of shadow for the passing bird; keep a place in your heart for the unexpected guests, an altar for an unknown God.
Amiel suggests that we need to leave a bit of space to allow the new and unknown. This means letting mystery have its place. This means letting mystery have its place in you, in me, in us, in the world. And what if letting mystery have a places means letting go of some things.
I mean things like past hurts, negative self-talk, self-doubt, resentment, defensiveness, and harmful behaviors. Maybe we need to be willing to let go of perfectionism, outworn ideas and beliefs, shame, fear, an insistence on being right, pettiness, and the need to control what will happen next.
It is possible to cling to ways of being for so long we can’t even imagine what life would be like without them. In some situations, I’ve found myself holding onto the idea that there isn’t any other way or no way out of whatever I may want out of. I can end up holding on to a certain image of myself that does not allow new qualities to emerge or doesn’t allow me to see myself as I truly am. Sometimes I even hold on too tightly to those I care about. I’ve even caught myself now and again feeling the world is beyond hope, beyond healing, beyond redemption, beyond being able to be transformed.
Imagine letting go of these—whatever ideas and ways of being that no longer serve us. Imagine how powerful that would be. What else might take root in their place? Perhaps unrealized dreams would have more space to grow and enlarge. Fear might give way to courage. Resentment to forgiveness, anger to compassion, judgment to appreciation, shame to vulnerability. Releasing perfectionism might open the door for integrity, and letting go of oppression might invite multi-culturalism.
When we let go, we don’t know what will happen. It is an act of trust to let mystery have a place in us, to throw our dreams into space.
So it was for a nine-year-old boy from the Netherlands. His name is Kaspar. He has an intimate experience with nature. One day he is outside and discovers that a young blackbird has fallen from the nest. Kaspar takes the bird in his hands, admiring its delicate beauty.
He tends to the young bird, carefully, lovingly, nursing it back to health and to maturity. One day as he is holding the bird, Kaspar feels something warm and wet on his hands. The bird has pooped on him. The bird is still, after all, a bird. This bird which he has rescued and cared for stays with him for half a year. During that time, the bird tries to fly and can’t fly. It tries harder to fly. It keeps on trying and trying to fly and can’t fly.
And then one day, the bird tries and it flies. The blackbird flies higher and higher until it reaches the ceiling. It can go no higher. It circles and circles. That is the day Kaspar learns about letting go. He takes the bird in his hands and carries it outside.
There he releases the gleaming blackbird. And the bird flies. It flies higher and higher. It circles and circles. Kaspar watches, hopeful. He watches for as long as the bird is within sight. He wants to see what will happen. He watches his friend fly higher and higher until it vanishes from sight. Kaspar thinks the bird might come back. He misses his friend. But it is, after all, a bird. It doesn’t return. (https://aeon.co/videos/after-nursing-a-bird-back-to-health-a-nine-year-o...)
Does this story end well? Is it sorrowful, is it a tale of hope, or something else?
A kite, a bird, a boy, a human being. Aren’t we meant for unfurling? Aren’t we meant for emergence? Aren’t we designed for letting go? The Sufi mystic Rumi says “You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Indeed we are born with wings. May we throw ourselves into the mystery. May the Spirit of Life sing in the heart and blow in the wind. May roots hold us close and wings set us free.
Aren’t we meant for this?
May it be so. Amen.