As Robert Frost said most concisely, “Freedom lies in being bold.” In Paul’s letter to Galatians, written around 58 AD, he is writing to those who would question whether or not he is not a true disciple because he is uncircumcised and not abiding by the Jewish laws and practices. This letter is a defense in which Paul helps them see the freedom of faith that unbound us from the burden of judgment and law. This letter says specifically that your faith can set you free. Chapter 4: 7 “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” Chapter 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” That we can be free in our faith and our beliefs is an ideal we catch glimpses of every now and again. A friend and I were walking one day in the park and it literally felt like we were walking through a sea of sunlight talking about freedom. It was so hard to pinpoint and yet, we could feel it. I told her that I had this fantasy that one day someone was going to call and ask me to do something and I was going to say “I can’t, I’m free that day.”
Years ago, St. Augustine’s and Magdalene held a joint retreat in East Tennessee. We spent the day swimming and fishing and that night had a dance in a huge tiki hut. We all gathered in the hut with our Styrofoam cups of cider as our DJ cranked up the music. It was dark and you couldn’t really see who was who, or who belonged to which community. There was beautiful crazy music and we were dancing and dancing. Suddenly I had forgotten that I was 40 years old, that I was white, that I was a mother, and that I was a pastor. I was just dancing, and I had a glimpse of that freedom. Maybe this is an image of what Paul was talking about; this radical freedom where we are not male or female, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, old or young, giver or receiver.
We give away our freedom faster than just about anything else in our lives. Somebody needs a little of it and we give it away as the demands of this life call us to exchange it for other commodities that we think are more important. People do sacrifice in political and judicial terms, but mostly we let it slip away. Paul speaks of freedom as an inheritance that is one of our most valuable gifts, if we are willing to surrender.
To surrender to be free means we need to quit thinking of it as waving a white flag and giving up all hope. It’s kind of the opposite. When we don’t surrender to love, we lose our freedom as we fight with our fears, anxieties, judgments, and death itself. Surrendering to love is saying, “I will let the internal fight cease and not let those things undo me. I will let everything go so I can be free.” To be sure, grief and death are formidable opponents that give us reasons to not be free and to fear. Death blurs our vision. It makes us near-sighted so we can’t see the forest for the tears we are weeping over losing a beautiful oak or a graceful tulip poplar. But love illuminates our vision so not only can we see the forest, but we can glimpse at the eternal sky above it and remember that we are so free. With that perspective we can see clearly this world has no hold on us. You and I are free. We are free from all the bounds that keep us in prison for no reason. We are free to be as bold as we want. The worries of judgment, fear, and oppression poured out by a pretty harsh world do not have to put blinders on us.
Paul and many other saints claim that when they surrender to love it bounds them to each other. Dietrich Bonheoffer, who gave up everything to be imprisoned for his faith, says that freedom is not a quality of man. It’s not a kind of being that flares up in him. “Anyone investigating man to discover freedom finds nothing of it.” Why? Why can we not find that quality in a human being? Dietrich says because “freedom is a relationship between two persons. Being free means ‘being free for the other’, because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”
Over the years Magdalene women have told the story that day they were sent to prison was the day they were set free of all the things they had felt trapped by. Shana recently said, “Now I live because I want other women to know freedom.” She has bound herself to others still on the streets, preaching hope completely free, courageous, and bold so that others may know love. She is set free bound for others.
In Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Freedom is the way we are bound to one another without anxiety, without fear of death, without worrying about judgment. You are free to speak your truth in love. You are free to be bold to move into the deepest axioms of creation beyond all borders that would enslave us, whatever those might be. You are not male or female in that freedom. You are not black or white in that freedom. You are not old or young in that freedom. You are the embodiment of love and no one can take that away; not prison, not sickness, not failure, and not death.