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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Spirituality of Letting Go 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

God asks only that you get out of God’s way and let God be God in you. —Meister Eckhart, sermon on 1 John 4:9   

Father Richard describes the spiritual discipline of detachment as the practice of “letting go”:  

In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died—and thus they are larger than death, too! Please think about that. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. They went through a death of their various false selves and came out on the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them. They fell into the Big Love and the Big Freedom—which many call God.  

Throughout most of history, the journey through death into life was taught in sacred space and ritual form, which clarified, distilled, and shortened the process. Today, many people don’t learn how to move past their fear of diminishment, even when it stares them down or gently invites them. This lack of preparation for the “pass over,” the absence of training in grief work and letting go, and our failure to entrust ourselves to a bigger life, have contributed to our culture’s spiritual crisis.  

All great spirituality is about letting go. Instead, we have made it to be about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding. True spirituality echoes the paradox of life itself. It trains us in both detachment and attachment: detachment from the passing so we can attach to the substantial. But if we do not acquire good training in detachment, we may attach to the wrong things, especially our own self-image and its desire for security. [1] 

Each time I learn to let go of what I thought was necessary for my own happiness, I invariably find myself in a larger place, a larger space, a deeper union, a greater joy. I’m sorry I can’t prove that to you ahead of time. We only know it after the fact. I used to read every book I could as a young man thinking if I understood good theology, good philosophy, good psychology, I’d know how to live the so-called perfect life and it would show me how to open the door in front of me. Now, in the last season of my life, I realize that what’s in front of me is still largely darkness—but it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s because letting go has taught me that I can look back, not forward, back at the past of my life and I can truthfully say, “What have I ever lost by dying? What have I ever lost by losing?” I have fallen upward again and again. By falling I have found. By letting go I have discovered, and I find myself in these later years of my life still surprised that that is true. [2] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 199. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2010).  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Margi Ahearn, Exercise on Grief and Lamentation. McEl Chevrier, Untitled. CAC Staff, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise. 

Story from Our Community:  

In 2000 I was a young actor in Hollywood, just starting to have some success … when I was diagnosed with a golf ball-sized brain tumor that came within two days of killing me. Even after surgery I was only given a 4% chance of five-year survival. Miracles were laid out for me and I am strong and vibrantly healthy 23 years later. When it first happened, I felt like all of my dreams have been destroyed, but looking back now I can see how it was actually one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I am much more in touch with my true self, in a much deeper relationship with God … [and] much closer to being the person I want to be. —Jamie G.  

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