“The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” You need not be familiar with the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop to appreciate the irony and humor in this first line of her poem, titled “One Art” (1979). I’m afraid I’ve lost more keys, cards, and keepsakes than I’d like to admit. To be sure, I am familiar with “the fluster” and “the hour badly spent.” The poet’s tone becomes more sober and the poem more profound as she writes of losing “cities...realms...even losing you.” In the end, her irony seems to make way for outright confession as she admits the “art” of losing “may look like...disaster.”
I’m not sure I’ve thought of losing as an art before. Certainly not as something that I need to “practice.” This Easter, I’ve been thinking of the art of losing as I read the Gospel of John. And, I think I have found something there that I have yet to “master” or fully understand.
According to John, Mary Magdalene lingered that first Easter morning at the empty tomb, weeping and desperately crying out for Jesus (John 20:11-15). In this way, she is met by the risen Lord himself, and her moment of grief and sorrow is surprised by joy! But, to me, Jesus’ response to her is even more surprising: “Do not cling (or hold on) to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father” (John 20:17). Jesus’ command to Mary is to let go of his body, even as he has counseled his disciples to let him go before that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16).
Losing may not be widely recognized as an art form, but I’ve heard many speak of “letting go and letting God.” Letting go might even be considered a spiritual practice, which we can only hope to master as we put our trust in God. This art of losing might be said to be another form of loving: after the pattern of Jesus’ self-emptying journey to the cross. I don’t think anyone has lost more or had more to lose than him. But, for Jesus, “losing” was no accident; it was a matter of his love for the lost. In letting go of all things--comfort, favor, friendship, power, even life itself--Jesus revealed the depth of God’s love for all. In Christ, it would seem the art of losing is the art of loving. Not just with words, but with deeds Jesus teaches us in the spiritual discipline of letting go.
Like Mary Magdalene, we are all learning to let go and let God. This Easter season, Christians everywhere are letting go of the-way-it-used-to-be and what-we-think-we-know as the Spirit continues to lead and guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13). Many of us are grieving loved ones lost and dreams deferred until another day and resurrection still to come. But, I think the good news of Easter for us is: the art of losing has and can be mastered in Him for whom the Resurrection is already come!