As our national holiday of freedom approaches and our political debates explore various interpretations of freedom spanning the range from guns to a woman’s body, Sunday’s lectionary hurls these words towards our hearts, like an ancient arrow seeking its target: “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” Not to submit, the apostle Paul goes on, to a yoke of slavery, again, but to use your new freedom to serve love.
Paul’s language of slavery is typically problematic for many groups, particularly women, when our country’s foundation is still heavily lodged in its patriarchal substructure. Traditionally, slavery has meant the system wherein humans can be considered the property of other humans and the state itself, much as we see with women in the ancient world and in parts of our modern world, too. But if we can look beyond our political and social systems, even if just for a moment, suspend our disbelief, as it were, and peek into the realm of the spirit, we can collect there, or perhaps even steal, a few nuggets of gold for our souls. Because there is another kind of slavery that undergirds all the rest, patriarchal systems, violence, hatred, greed and all, it is the slavery of the spirit. In Greek the word freedom means liberation, the root of the word is liber, to set free.
When we speak of feminism, we speak of the power of liberation from systems and people. But while the exercise of human dignity requires this type of liberation, the roots of freedom are much deeper, they are firmly fixed in a different realm, as Paul speaks of in Galatians 5, the realm of spirit. When one’s very spirit is enslaved to serving the powers of greed, reinforced by fear, discrimination, racism, violence and hatred, it requires a power from a different realm, and so Christ offers a different way, the power to be free at the root level. As the Sufi poet Rumi said in the 13th century, “perhaps you are searching among the branches for what can only found in the roots.” He was speaking of Divine love and its transformational power, hidden in the root, the spiritual realm.
Freedom in Christ is a different kind of freedom. It is the ability to serve something different than dominance, greed and hatred, what seems to be quite active at the branch level of life. Spiritual freedom is about the ability to be free to serve a spiritual agenda. Christ gives us the courage, the spirit and the power to become free to serve a Higher Power, activating freedom at the soul level.
Whereas we can always make up our minds and use our force of will to live differently and actually get pretty far down the road towards our own ideas of freedom, it’s very difficult for us to remove the barriers to our freedom on our own, in fact, it’s impossible, it requires spiritual power, the power of our Higher Being, the power of God. Only God can remove the barriers to our true freedom.
With Christ working as a spiritual power in our conscious living, we gain the freedom to serve our spiritual nature, the center of which is joy, and live in such a way that the majesty of our spirit is awakened.