Freedom, Part I

One of the greatest gifts we receive from God is freedom. This freedom is not absolute. We don’t all have the same physical and mental abilities, we don’t all have the same resources, and we don’t all live in the same social and cultural circumstances, so part of what we understand as freedom is relative to our context. From a spiritual perspective this freedom extends so far that we can deny God or turn away from God. We have the freedom to interpret our experience of God and the ways that God engages us. This experience of God is unique to us individually and no matter how hard we try, we cannot duplicate the experience of another person for ourselves. One of the things this should tell us is that it is a sin (by sin I mean anything that separates us from our experience of God) to superimpose our experience of God and our interpretation of that experience on another human being. Every person is given the ability to uniquely express his or her spiritual experience. This is afforded to them within the freedom granted by God. If a person has been sexually abused by a father, or sexually abused by a person often referred to as a father, like a priest, it is insensitive and abusive to expect them to begin a prayer to God with the words, “Our Father.” If we think that they need to be “re-trained,” “re-educated,” or “re-formed” because they are not capable of understanding God as Father, because tradition demands that, then we have compounded the abuse and set in motion the institutionalization of that sin. “That sin” I am referring to is the sin of superimposing our experience and understanding onto someone else. Not only does this deny them the truth of their experience, it denies them the right to interpret that experience, it denies them the right to determine how they choose to survive spiritually in the world. When we do this we deny them the dignity of their own humanity and we attempt to take away from them the very freedom that is God’s gift to them. We set ourselves up believing that we are the mediator of God’s Law or will for human beings. Until we understand the arrogance of this attitude and perspective, our ability to grow spiritually into Oneness with God will be severely limited. Unfortunately this arrogance often extends into other areas of life, including sexuality, political power, and religion. Thomas Merton understood this when he said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

Love understands that the boundary of our freedom exists where the freedom of another human being begins. Our relationship with each other, if it is grounded in mutual respect, if it seeks to listen and understand, if it begins with mutual sharing, if it does not seek to exploit, then it reflects God, because God’s relationship with us is one of respect, listening, understanding, and sharing, because God does not need to take advantage of us.