A Knack for Surrender

Surrender, like love, is polymorphous, shape-shifting. It has many faces. I used to think it had only one. It meant running from a fight, quitting, being unmanly, a disgrace.  Then it began to show other faces, starting with the face of love.

The signs in my neighborhood plead for resistance — I applaud. The sign for love is a sign to surrender — I applaud. I resist autocracy and surrender to friends – to their words, moods — their heartbeats. I listen to them, wait for them, attend and love them.  I surrender, lower my guard. I’m vulnerable. That’s OK.

It’s good to resist evil but bad to resist God. It’s good to resist hatred but bad to resist love. There are always exceptions, different faces.  If you’re senior-citizen Job, under attack, you fight against God for a while. But then God takes Job’s breath away and he no longer fights. The whirlwind of nature’s creatures, the weather, the seas, overwhelm him. He surrenders, and sees that it’s good.  It’s good to surrender to music, too – let it wash over you, have its way with you. If God is the music of a stars over Casco Bay, don’t fight, surrender – melt away. That’s what Job says at the end, when he stops fighting: “I retreat; I am quiet; I melt away.”

Our way with the world is many-faced because we are many faced, and so is the world. I have a friend who is a champion boxer and a devout Christian. She’s a terror in the ring and surrenders spiritually to God. If you’re in AA, you fight the bottle and surrender to God. If you play classical music you fight to be alert and surrender to the conductor and the allure of the oboe. You give way to the ‘cello — listen, yield, surrender.

If love and surrender are shape-shifting, polymorphous, there’s no all-purpose rule for shifting from one to the other.  The stories of love and surrender, of Eden and Exile, precede any law. We fight for human rights but yield to the music of words, the serenade of birds, or smile of the 2 yr. old angel in pew 22.  Giving way is good. Everything isn’t fighting for rights or for right of way.

Laughter is surrender. You give up your stiff upper body, fixed smile, and verbal control. Laughter isn’t straight-faced or control. Can God laugh? Is He – or She – always controlled?  The Persian poet Hafiz, a 14th century holy man, didn’t think so. He was a mystic who yielded to the joys of love, wine, and laughter.  With a twinkle, he reports, “My Lord told me a joke.  And seeing him laugh has done more for me than any scripture I will ever read.”

He becomes one with God in hearing God joke, and seeing God laugh, seeing God vulnerable, giving way to humor. In telling a joke, we submit to a wisdom greater than we are. God submits to a moment of humor and is vulnerable laughter. In the moment, surrendering to humor God is less than all-powerful.

In a haunting tale, the Russian writer Dostoevsky shows Christ yielding to Love, He yields to the Spanish Grand Inquisitor who has jailed him. The devil is talking, justifying the imprisonment, but Christ kisses him on the lips. He doesn’t strike him dead. The Inquisitor surrenders, even as Christ surrenders to love.

To be unable to surrender is a vice. If you can’t yield to the knowledge you’re wrong, that you’ve hurt someone, — if always fight back, you’re a fool and a bully. Better to surrender to the sense you’ve done wrong, if you have. And when others do you wrong?  Fighting back, getting revenge are options. Or like Christ, you might forgive.  “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” That doesn’t mean our God of love is full of wrath.  As in Anna Karenina, it means it’s not our place to be vengeful. We should surrender that impulse to God who can shelve it along with other archaic impulses. A God of Unconditional Love is not a God of Wrath. Love is surrender of control and vengeance, a surrender of power and worry about whom to embrace and whom to shun.

There’s sexism in our preference for vulnerable women and invulnerable men, for assertive men and listening women, for fighting men and mothering women, for an all-powerful Lord of Creation over a Nursing Mary.

Kierkegaard likes shape-shifting. He imagines a nursing Abraham, weaning his son Isaac! Does God wean us from dependence the way a mother weans us toward freedom?  Our images of motherhood and fatherhood, man and woman, are flexible, labile, polymorphous geared to context and shape-shifting. Tough-love is setting free, like weaning. Quiet listening is a virtue, yet sometimes it’s good to shout: I yell “Look Out!” as a child drifts toward the curb.

Love and surrender overlap with forgiveness.  “Forgive them, they know not what they do!” declares the primacy of love over revenge.

A self-assured person can laugh at herself.  Humor surrenders domination. Mr. Comey says his Inquisitor never laughs at himself. He’d rather fight and bully. The Lord doesn’t do belly laughs, but a Laughing Buddha smiles. In laughing we surrender control, collapse giggling, let humor take over. “My Lord told me a joke.  And seeing him laugh has done more for me than any scripture I will ever read.”

God’s laugh displays vulnerability. Perhaps the created world is imperfect. God could get angry, and start over, as He does after the flood. Or He – or She — might laugh, not in scorn, but in tenderness and affection at the foibles of the creatures he imperfectly created. If I laugh, I surrender to something more important than my self-importance – I let humor steal my stolid composure. If God laughs, Her wrath is sidelined, and we feel Her loving us despite our foibles.

Sometimes we learn the virtue of giving up despite ourselves. There’s a wonderful Rabbinic tale of a boy who knit a dozen smart circus caps to sell at the fair. He wore his favorite and bundled the rest in a sack, and headed out through the woods to on the way to the fair. Getting tired, he stops and takes a nap under the trees. When he awakens his sack is empty, though his cap is safely on his head.

The trees are filled with monkeys cavorting, showing off the purloined hats. The boy screams “Give them back!” – and they scream “Give them back!” He says “I’m not kidding! I need them to sell at the fair!” They scream back, “I’m not kidding! I need them to sell at the fair!” Finally, he gives up in anger, throwing down his hat in disgust, and screams “Here, take this!”

The monkeys throw down their hats screaming “Here, take this.”  The boy picks them up, and bags them. He wins a battle by giving up on a battle. By surrendering, he’s victorious. He hits rock bottom and recovers.

There’s an old Taoist saying, “Cease Striving; then there will be self-transformation.” We might say, “Cease striving, then learn to surrender, to love.”

We plead achingly for wisdom — for the knack of where and when to surrender, where and when to cease striving — where and when, in our shape-shifting world, to laugh and love.


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