Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Risk of Surrender

I came to know the hymn “I Surrender All” in the small Baptist church my dad was pastor of during my childhood years. We’d stand at the end of the evening service, the stained glass windows muted black with night and sing. The mood of the song was tired, gentle, even peaceful at the end of a long Sunday. But what I have come to think about surrender is far more unsettling.

Surrender is always a choice with unknown result, and so of necessity must involve risk. Whether I surrender to a feeling, such as grief, or to my husband of fifteen years, I am surrendering at least in some part to the unknown. No matter how many times I’ve grieved, I will never completely know its depths. No matter how long I’ve known someone I will never know them fully. There is always the risk that this particular time, my giving will not be wanted, or that things will interfere and it will not be received as I intended.

In An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis describes the risk in surrendering without a guaranteed result, in this case to a work of art.
The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way. (There is no good asking first whether the work before you deserves such a surrender, for until you have surrendered you cannot possibly find out.)
In the case of God, I can at least know that he deserves my surrender. And maybe I can think of my life as a work of art to which I must surrender. My task as Lewis describes is to look, listen, receive, and get out of the way. And, even with trembling hands, my task is to learn surrender: to surrender my past and my dreams for the future, to surrender my children to the violence of an unpredictable world, to surrender myself to the unknown depths of grief, to the fears of new relationships, new work, new routines, to the confusing mystery of an inscrutable God. But even as I surrender with fear and self-doubt and sometimes even anger, I pray that I will discover the God who deserves it, singing presence and comfort into my life like a song in an old church at night.

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