We are funny creatures. We long for so much. We are afraid of so much. And sometimes they are the same things.
“We’re afraid of that truth which Jesus promised would make us free.” These words echo from the pen of a favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle. As I muse over this, I wonder if we fear freedom or truth…? Perhaps both.
Is the truth we are afraid of the real truth? Ephesians invites us to “put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth” (Eph. 4).
What is this moment’s truth for me? That I am tired? Joyful? Frail? Celebrating? Ashamed? Safe? Successful? Failing? Well? Ill? Grace-filled? In sync? Out of whack? In panic? At peace? What is yesterday’s truth? My failures and limitations and sins? My gifts given, burdens carried, service offered in joy? My achievements? My prayer? My creativity? My doldrums? Truth so explored may be just a matter of emphasis. Which memory or moment’s reality do I claim or focus on as that which is true? To dwell on one or the other only is not the whole, and we are all and each such complex mixes.
L’Engle says, “The basic truth for me, the freeing truth, is God’s love, God’s total unequivocal love.”
We find truth speakers in scripture in the prophets. The salary they received for sharing truth was being stoned or discredited, ignored or deemed crazy, classified as beyond the pale or as demanding too much, or a long stay in the nearest cistern.
Jesus comes and is not only a truth speaker, but we say he is the truth. As his coming among us is the expression of how deeply the Divine/the Creator/God/The Holy Presence wants to be with us and wants us to see how we are loved…. he is indeed truth. With this amazing Truth, why would we hold to what confines us in smaller prisons?
Perhaps it is the freedom that this truth offers us that scares us. How would we measure, understand, control or deal with a life that is not bounded by scarcity or small framings? It doesn’t matter that the world of comparison making is not the world of the Spirit (as John Shea so well points out in his writings), we get and keep a hold on things by keeping them in our constructs/boxes/perceptions.
It is God’s joy to blow up our small grasp of certainties, so that we can encounter the real and wild God of creation and grace. Without our familiar slaveries to what we grasp and hold on to, we find ourselves humbled. But it is this very humility – this nakedness, if you will – that saints like Francis of Assisi found to be the source of true joy. To be stripped of what we know or thought we knew makes us absolutely dependant, which we were anyway, truth be told! And then, and only then, can we grow into the freedom that is the amazing wonder of who we are really in this holiness of truth, and what difference we are and can make in the world!
Perhaps you’ve seen the quote below often attributed to Nelson Mandela. He actually used the words of Marianne Williamson in an address, and many have thought they were his:
“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
It’s the being liberated that we seem to object to. We each have strong blocks, found in our patterns of making sense of and managing life. When we would encounter the unequivocal love of God, we may find ourselves without the reins any longer, or the hold on the bars to our own prisons. Our prisons served a purpose in our past perhaps, but God’s love invites something new. And freedom is the way of being of the one about whom it is written: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.” (2 Cor. 3: 17)
I know the shapes and forms of some of my own fears and resistances to the truth of love. Today I wish you knowledge enough of yours. But, for us all, this knowledge is not to be dwelt on. There is somewhere much more exciting to go! And it is an adventure, a drawing, a creating, a life!
The place to find a way to freedom and truth – past fear – is in the encounter with Jesus. Sit with him – sit before him. Look into his eyes through whatever means is your path of contemplation and action. With him as our friend, our brother, our spiritual director, our physician, our therapist, our intimate partner – in that encounter is the possibility to no longer worry about the ramifications of truth or our agoraphobia before freedom. We can learn what Barbara Fiand has termed “releasement”. All we need is to be with. God will bring us into light and truth and freedom that we may better shine and share glory. We need not worry about our responsibility to recreate our own lives singlehandedly, as the new creation is God’s new creation. We are “God’s work of art” after all, not our own.
Strive only to be, and to be with. And watch as much more unravels and unfolds that we might ask for or imagine. And pray for all of us who are also so engaged in this process of growing and believing, being freed and coming to truth, encounter and fear, hesitancy and hope.