Spiritual Networks

Capturing Freedom Intro:
The Divine Paradox of Human Freedom

These poems are for captives on their way to freedom. Those who've walked through the valley of the shadow of death will find themselves here. This path is not for the faint of heart, not for those who prefer illusions, not for the those for whom ignorance is bliss. If you've discovered that the only way out is through, then these poems are for you.

These words come from the darkness where all is lost. Those who've opened their eyes in the barest glimmer of light will see their reflection here. This vision is not for those who have chosen to hide in the light, wearing their sunglasses. If you've learned to look yourself in the mirror, whatever the light, then these words are for you.

Those who have realized the horror of being controlled are the only ones who can celebrate the wonder of freedom. This is an ancient paradox. I first became aware of it as a little boy, hearing the story of the Israelites held captive by the Egyptians. They thought of themselves as slaves until one of them who'd been raised by their captors said they were free. This always amazed me, that they could just get up and walk out. Of course the miracles helped, plagues, locusts, and all. The dominators would only let go if they were overpowered. Moses had a God on his side who was more powerful than them and theirs. I had no idea at the time why this story resonated so deeply with me.

Nor was it lost on me as a young boy that escaping captivity did not mean instant freedom. The former slaves had to wander in the desert until they learned whatever would make them ready for the Promised Land. There they were continually lost and confused, making every manner of mistake. Even as a child I could see that these mistakes were somehow about trying to control things. They kept trying to escape the uncertainty of their fate, to take to themselves the power of God. As a child I never realized why all this intrigued me so.

Eventually, of course, they learned their lessons and made it to the land of milk and honey. Milk and honey weren't all that wonderful to me, but I could get it that after forty years in the desert they'd be mighty fine. What I really got was that the former slaves learned to receive the bounty that God had to offer. How that came about, and why God was finally favoring them, was a mystery to me, and often still is.

The profundity of this classic tale became clear to me when I was studying theology. One of my professors said that the Exodus event was the historical genesis of the Jewish religion as well as Christianity. He said it revealed the essence of who God is in the life of a people. As I spent time with the story, what became central for me was Moses' experience at the burning bush. Here was a man raised as royalty, devastated one day to discover that he was born a slave. Lost to himself, he wandered in the desert until he saw a bush in flames without being burnt. This irrational experience snapped him out of his devastated trance. His mind balked and he knew something sacred was happening.

Letting go of prior certainties Moses opened himself to something brand new. He met God, a complete surprise. In this experience he realized that his people were not slaves. God told him they had the power of self-determination, that they could get up and walk out. This made sense of Moses' personal history, that he was a slave and is now free: as for him, so for his people. However, Moses was still caught in the controller's mindset. He told God he needed a really powerful name for Him if the mighty Egyptians were to bend to His Will. God gave to Moses the name that is the essence of all power: I am who I am. Years ago, as I sat with this name, the whole story suddenly made sense to me. It also made sense of my life. And it changed everything.

Moses and his people needed time to assimilate this name for God, and its meaning for their identities. So have I. Such is the road to freedom. On this road dawns a gradual realization of my own divinity. I am not a slave, defined and determined by the choices of others. This discovery means awakening to all the ways that I have allowed others to tell me who I am. On my journey this means learning to say no to all those, who once had or still do have power over me. For me, this was once a long list, beginning with my father who had abused power with me. The list came to include almost all adults in my childhood, especially teachers and religious leaders. Eventually I woke up to realizing that I was giving power away, all the time, to everyone. The poems in the first section, Control, emerged in moments of such frightening acknowledgment. It is scary each time I realize that the next step toward freedom is facing the truth of my unfreedom. Such fear can be empowering. Suddenly I simple must say no.

Developmental psychologists see saying no as the first movement of human freedom. If you can remember being around a two year old, you know what I mean. There is a truth here that lasts through life: each time I awaken to another way that I am being controlled, I have an opportunity to claim my freedom. I just say no. You do not define me. No-one else does. I am who I say I am.

As gargantuan as saying no appears each time I approach it, it shrinks suddenly when I'm on the other side of it. Once I have refused to give away my freedom to others, I am faced with the profound challenge of what to do with it. This means wandering in the desert for a while. The poems in the second section, Uncertainty, emerged during such moments in my life. I have stepped out of so many externally imposed definitions of who I am. I've done it as husband, father, teacher, therapist, and friend, to name some of the more salient roles within which I have wandered. Tolerating uncertainty is a key to any genuine freedom.

Glory be to God, there have also been times in my life when I have relished being free. These times are not always sweetness and light. They are the times when I simply accept the truth of who I am. I embrace the truth because I know it sets me free. In the truth of my experience I find the freedom to say I am who I am. I may be feeling fear, anger, or sadness, as well as peace or joy. When I'm free, whether I'm up or down, I choose to say yes to who I am. The poems in the third section, Freedom, emerged during such times in my life. I am steadily learning how much creative power there is in simply being true to myself.

Freedom is such a relief for those who've been without it. Such relief is the province of every human being. I believe that it is natural to all of us at this stage in our evolution, to have to break out of oppression and claim our freedom. It may be that in every culture the powers that be get their way by imposing it on those with less power. What happens then, all too often, is that the oppressed bide their time, scheming mightily, until their turn arrives. Then they become the oppressors and the cycle repeats itself. The dream of freedom is the way out of the cycle of such abuse of power. It is not a pipe dream for those with the courage to say no without overpowering anyone. Freedom is a dream being realized for those willing to endure their uncertainty as they listen for the truth of who they are. Freedom is a reality for those who've discovered how simple the truth is. It is nothing more than saying I am who I am.

Poetry is a great way to reveal a mystery. Words are so inadequate. Often the more definite and rational I get with them, the more I assume the power to convince you of what your truth should be. Poetry has no power to convince. It's simply a misty mirror into which you can peer. Please don't waste time trying to figure out what I mean with any of my words. Even though I have used them to say who I am, they have already served that purpose for me. They were never written to be published. So, I offer them now with a happily humble lack of power over you. All these words simply say who I am. I am pleased that they don't sum me up into simple clarity. I am way too complex a mystery for that. And it's so liberating not to have to boil myself down to the bare bones. Others have long tried to do that to me. They have failed. It is not my wish to do any such thing to you. I hope that as you read, you are often filled with uncertainty, and that you learn to tolerate more of it. I pray that I serve as an indistinct mirror into which you have the courage to gaze. May you love what you see there. May you love enough to say I am who I am.

[ back to top ]