Sunday, April 19, 2009

Freedom!

True freedom is the freedom of the children of God. To reach that freedom requires a lifelong discipline since so much in our world militates against it. The political, economic, social, and even religious powers surrounding us all want to keep us in bondage so that we will obey their commands and be dependent on their rewards.

But the spiritual truth that leads to freedom is the truth that we belong not to the world but to God, whose beloved children we are. By living lives in which we keep returning to that truth in word and deed, we will gradually grow into our true freedom...

When we are spiritually free, we do not have to worry about what to say or do in unexpected, difficult circumstances. When we are not concerned about what others think of us or what we will get for what we do, the right words and actions will emerge from the centre of our beings because the Spirit of God, who makes us children of God and sets us free, will speak and act through us.

Jesus says: "When you are handed over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes, because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you" (Matthew 10:19-20).

Let's keep trusting the Spirit of God living within us, so that we can live freely in a world that keeps handing us over to judges and evaluators...

When you are interiorly free you call others to freedom, whether you know it or not. Freedom attracts wherever it appears. A free man or a free woman creates a space where others feel safe and want to dwell. Our world is so full of conditions, demands, requirements, and obligations that we often wonder what is expected of us. But when we meet a truly free person, there are no expectations, only an invitation to reach into ourselves and discover there our own freedom.

Where true inner freedom is, there is God. And where God is, there we want to be.

from Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey.

Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

So much of our lives, it seems to me, are led according to the by now unconscious, internalised, teaching we received from our parents. If we are truly fortunate, this will be the Gospel of Christ - but for so many of us it is not.

I have still, at the age of 60, to struggle daily against expectations built into my whole perception of my own self-worth. I "know", because I was taught it at an age when I was too young to know that there was any other point of view, that love is earned, and may at any time be withdrawn if one fails to meet expectations. I "know" too that one's worth as a person, one's right to exist in another's eyes, only comes at the price of meeting certain targets, of coming up with the goods, both educationally and creatively.

To hear the Gospel, truly to hear it, years after I had first accepted intellectually the truth of our faith, was for me to hear that justification is by faith alone: that there is nothing I could do to earn it, and that nothing I can in my frail humanity fail to do can lose it for me. To read the 8th chapter of Paul's Letter to the Romans properly was one of the greatest liberations in all my life. And yet it was only in trying to live according to what I read in the Gospels that I was able to understand it. Nouwen says, "By living lives in which we keep returning to that truth in word and deed, we will gradually grow into our true freedom..." and I have come to know that he was right!

But, knowing all this, I still have to struggle. For me, the false programming I received as a child acts as one of the "powers" Nouwen refers to, and which Paul describes so movingly in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." I have daily to take up the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) to resist it, to cut it down with the sword of the Spirit, for if I do not, I find that it grows up unbidden again, like brambles, in the background of my sense of who I am.

Nouwen is right when he speaks of "living lives in which we keep returning to that truth [of the Gospels] in word and deed." We do indeed have to "keep returning." Our enemy will not, this side of Glory, allows us to rest in this truth, to appropriate it once for all. But it is right anyway, I think, that we shouldn't. Paul says again, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." (Romans 8:28) and here it seems he is doing just that. As long as we remain part of a creation as yet not fully liberated (ibid. 18-25) we will forget, or the bramble re-growth of whatever it is obscures our hearing of the Word that sets us free.

Truly, nothing will ultimately be able to "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" but in order actually to live our lives in the freedom of that truth, we have to "remain" ("abide" NRSV) in Christ (John 15), living according to his teaching - for it is only then that we will "will know the truth, and the truth will set [us] free." (John 8:32)

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if we will ever know complete freedom this side of the tapestry with all its knots and odd threads and obscure design. I have much the same difficulty overcoming parental voices -- must have something to do with our similar ages! Also, my parents left me with the persistent feeling that I was somehow less worthy than the rest of humanity, of a lower caste, so even if I earned their approval, I was still second-rate. My friends chide me for not "owning" the goodness in me. So hard to do. Thank God that Jesus still puts up with me. ;)

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