There is a great story told about catching a monkey. Regardless of why you need a monkey, all you need to do is place some bananas inside a cage and leave them in an area were monkeys will frequent. Apon seeing the bananas, the monkey will reach through the cage and be trapped. It is trapped simply because it won’t think to let go of the banana and instead will struggle trying to pull it through the wire hole. The trapper simple walks up and places a rope around the monkeys neck and it is now a prisoner.
Whether or not this story is true, it holds so much truth.
Spirituality speaks of holding things loosely, because faith is an evolving part of our lives. If we hold too tight, we become preoccupied with the fear of losing something instead of experiencing the joy of having something. Author Rachel Held Evans describes Fundamentalism in this way. She writes that Fundamentalism isn’t what you believe, but how you hold that belief. Hands closed and white knuckled around a set of ideas that you believe are unchanging regardless of what you may come to discover.
It isn’t so much that faith changes, but it expands, it grows and needs room to do so because it is alive.
In order to receive anything new, you have to be open and willing. The illustration of the monkey is perfect here. In order to think about God or life or love in a fresh way, you have to be able and willing to let go of what you are currently holding. This doesn’t mean you discard, but simply hold with an open hand. Letting go is a huge part of most wisdom traditions. Some teach that spiritual awakening doesn’t come from receiving new information, but letting go of what is no longer true, or is now harmful. Once again we see the notion of being open to what God might be up to, and that it might look different than what you have previously experienced.
Is it any coincidence that when our hands are closed around something it forms a fist. This posture fits well those who represent a fundamentalist position on anything. Ready to fight for what they hold in their hands.
I wonder if this is what Jesus may have meant when he taught the disciples to pray. In teaching them to pray he tells them to ask for God to forgive, as they themselves have forgiven others. At first it can seem like two separate acts, but upon closer inspection they are intricately connected—two sides of the same coin. Is it possible that we can only receive God’s forgiveness into our hands as we have let go of the hatred, anger and indifference that fills them? Is it possible that we can really only hold one of these ideas at a time—forgiveness or indifference? Could the same be true of love and hate, despair and hope trust or certainty? The challenge for so many then, is not in the asking from God, but letting go of our feelings towards others so we can receive from God. And if our hands are close fisted around ideas that destroy, then we are trapped unable to receive freedom merely because we are unwilling to let go and receive.