(Note: Searching beneath the surface, holy discontent, good questions – these are the elements that start and sustain a truly transformative journey. I will occasionally share some of the wonderings that began to move me from inherited pieties to what I call 'sustainable spirituality.')
A great prophet is ushered into the oval office and says, “Sir, this is the land of the free and you are the leader of the free world. I serve a freedom of which you know nothing. Anyone who would be truly free will listen to me.”
The President replies. “And what, do tell, is freedom?”
THE FIGHT FOR FREE ELECTIONS
KEEP THE FAIR MARKET FREE, AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL
THE LEFT AND RIGHT ARE THREATENING YOUR FREEDOM TO GIVE
IT WAS FOR THIS FREEDOM THAT CHRIST SET US FREE
THE FOUNDING FATHERS KEEP ME FREE FROM YOUR FAITH
HOW FACULTY, ALUMNI, AND STUDENTS CAN KEEP THEIR CAMPUSES INTELLECTUALLY FREE
THE BATTLE FOR OUR GOD-GIVEN FREEDOMS
Sometimes I read the words of Jesus and Paul on freedom and I think, really? “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Freedom from versus freedom to – I get it, intellectually. I understand it theologically in that I am free from slavery to passions, shame, condemnation, and fear of the sting of death. But freedom existentially? Not so much. I am free to be free from sin which means free to struggle, free to feel the burden of the law, free to see my sin more and more and work to appropriate God’s love for me more and more, free to start over, over and over again, free to try better by the Spirit, free to rinse-cycle-repeat, free to grow weary and sometimes sick of this all. Somewhere along the line I was taught or misinterpreted the idea that the faithful Christian way of life is primarily about growing in moral obedience to God and service of my neighbor. Which, if that doesn’t come naturally (and it doesn’t) is pretty much a never-ending burden of conscience. So where does one catch that entirely free yet entirely beholden liberty of conscience of which Paul speaks so often? Free to simply be?
I don’t doubt that my constitution is weaker than that of everyone else. I wish I had the inner fortitude by which everyone else just, you know, does what they do. How do all these people seem to know with such simple certainty they were meant to engineer, to pickle, to teach? How are they so comfortable going around doing their own thing in their own skin? It must be so empowering and liberating! I wish I were stronger. I wish my inner resources were enough. But they’re not. I bend too easy to the whisperings of others; I’m yoked to and steered by their expectations; I copycat. I try on personas like I'm on the fourth floor of Macy's with unlimited credit. Every time I walk into a room I am trapped in the center of a spiderweb as every person there passes vibrations to me by thread. What do you need from me? Who can I be for you? "Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest." This is freedom for my soul? I don’t feel free. I feel enslaved to Him. (Good.) And chained to a cross I’ve taken up which is pulled in one-hundred different directions simultaneously and constantly by others.
"Be curious," says the therapist. "Why do you drive so hard and never stop for breath?" One possible answer: The glory will depart. My fear of this. From military-travel childhood to whatever piety I have to relationships to work ethic to my sense of God, it seems one of my driving motivations and fears is that the glory will depart.
At the Blanco River retreat I spend the whole time trying to figure out how to make it a repeat trip forever, never to lose it. I remember the Ozymandias poem being one of the first major spiritual moments in my adolescence, terrifying in its truth.
The glory will depart.
Why does the inability to partake in beauty make me melancholy? Daria.
Even in paradise, you're still you.
I am not a martyr. I am not a good guy. Have you ever tried keeping your eyes closed while walking on the sidewalk more than ten steps? Losing your faith feels like that. It starts out novel, a new perspective, moves into momentary thrill, and then strikes with terror, feels unsustainable. But isn't blindness a learned skill too? I always hated that term ‘losing your faith’, as if it could be misplaced like car keys. But it really is a loss. Like divorce is a loss. Not even so much of a separate entity that you feel slipping through your grasp, but more like how a marriage ends: you slowly become less and less able to abide the presence of the you that has emerged through years of intertwining and it’s not so much your former lover and partner you can no longer abide but your own company. You loosen or suppress or intentionally misplace this you bit by bit, a tightening of your hands around his throat perhaps, for you need him to die, must be free of him. He can no longer live if you will. But who is you? You don’t know. Only that it can’t be him anymore. Maybe if you put him to death something new can grow from its ashes.