Take and Hold, Hold and Let Go

Miriam Stulberg

Miriam wrote the following when she was transferred back to Combermere after a fourteen-year stint in Marian Centre Edmonton. She’s been here for a few months now.


The late mezzo soprano Christa Ludwig often quoted the words of one of the opera characters she sang, words she had taken for her own life’s motto. Roughly translated from the German, they read: “One must live lightly, with a light heart and light hands. Take and hold, hold and let go.” (Hugo von Hoffsmanthal, Der Rosenkavalier)

Though not overtly spiritual, these words have also come to have considerable meaning for me. They echo T.S. Eliot’s “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still. Even among these rocks, our peace in his will.” (Ash Wednesday).

Or Charles de Foucauld’s prayer, “Father, I abandon myself into your hands. Do with me what you will. Whatever you do, I thank you…”

Or the words of one of my Madonna House mentors when I was revelling in the mission we’d founded in France, the fulfillment of one of my dreams: “Miriam, I beg you, don’t settle in.”

Ever since I was a child, I have had a tendency to throw myself, body and soul, into the passion of the moment. As a teenager, it was everything about ballet (except dancing myself). In later years it was languages, German lieder, piano, Russian culture, embroidery.

Fortunately, the deepest, most lasting and all-embracing passion was God himself—the one need and dependence that was the source of my life and the only one that not only was absolutely safe, but absolutely necessary.

How hard it is, though, to keep focusing on God as our life and security and to let everything else fall away at the given moment. I have received so many gifts from the Lord, so many rich relationships and interests. My tendency is to cling to them, fearing that to let go is to lose something essential.

The truth is exactly the opposite. By clinging to God’s gifts, I kill them. I appropriate them for myself and crush them in my grip. Because my hands are clutching them so tightly, I am unable to receive anything new.

“Take and hold.” With gratitude. “Hold and let go.” With gratitude.

During my early years as part of the team sent to open a Madonna House mission in Russia, I could not even conceive of being anywhere else.

My life was being transformed by this new world in which I found myself. It was clearly God’s work, and because it was so exhilarating and recreating, there was also a fear that it might be taken from me. Fear that the house might close, or that illness might force me to come back.

God’s grace was such that by the time my M.S. (multiple sclerosis) had reached a point where I needed to return to Combermere, I knew that what I treasured in Russia had become an intrinsic part of me. I no longer had to be there physically.

A year and a half after my return to our main centre, in Combermere, I was sent to Marian Centre in Edmonton for a two month’s break that stretched into fourteen years!

These were years the passing of which I barely noticed. To my surprise, this too turned out to be a rich life with its own spiritual, human and cultural satisfactions.

I am one of those people for whom familiarity with a place and a way of life brings its own satisfactions. I love getting to know the streets of a new city to the point where I can navigate them with shortcuts, and the way a formerly unknown geographical area comes alive with personal meaning.

I love being able to pull up from my memory the last name of a person we haven’t seen for a long time, and knowing where to find things in the nooks and crannies of the house I inhabit.

Several years ago, I found myself chafing at what felt like a lack of challenge in my life. The response of my director general startled me: “Yes, many of the older women feel their talents are not being used.”

Was that what I was saying? I was horrified and immediately dropped my protest in order to dive into “the mystery of the ordinary.”

Now, suddenly, I am being asked once again to “Arise, go…sell what you have…and follow Me.”

The call to obedience can be a call to stay or a call to go, but it is always a call to let go of my own wishes in order to find new life in God.

There is absolute security in doing so, but in order to find that security, I have to pass through a death to what I know.

It’s easy to get caught up in fears and anxieties, especially regarding details that will eventually fall into place in the larger picture. To quote T.S. Eliot again:


In order to arrive
at what you are not,
you must go by a way
which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess
what you do not possess
you must go
by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive
at what you are not
you must go through the way
in which you are not.

from “East Coker” in “Four Quartets”


My life has a tendency to swing away from the polar point of its compass, and I get fooled by the attraction, not to what is bad, but to what is good. Good—but not the ultimate. Obedience pulls me back on course.

I don’t often have much of a “feel” of God’s presence, though I usually know he is there. But when the earth shifts beneath my feet and I lose my habitual moorings, it is like the wing of the Holy Spirit brushing across my cheek. I hear the coveted words, “Friend, come higher,” and it is as if the Lord bends to kiss me.

There is nothing to be lost, except false securities. To be a  Pilgrim of the Absolute is the greatest adventure of all.