Free (adjective): enjoying personal freedom, not subject to the control or domination of another; not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being, choosing or capable of choosing for itself.
The word came to me a couple months ago, as I began thinking about what 2014 might hold for me and what I want from it. I realized that I want permission to freely explore the depths of my faith and doubt, without the restraint of dogma or obligations or people pleasing. I want the space to find the place where God may be taking me, if I let him. I want one year of silencing the voices, inside and out, that tell me all the things I can't do or believe or say as a Christian. I don't want to think of the I can'ts for a while. I want to explore the world beyond them. I want to be free.
It's a funny word, really. Free. The way the e sound falls off softly at the end, it almost makes you think it is something easy, light. But as my confidence in the word has grown stronger, the fear of it has grown deeper. Freedom may be nice, but the getting there isn't. The work of becoming free is painful, and treacherous, and terrifying. Am I really ready for it? Am I ready to proclaim, publicly and with confidence, that this year I shall be free? Because what if I'm not? What if the work of freedom is just too painful and I'm enslaved as ever to the same old things? Or what if I find myself free momentarily, only to bind myself to some new form of chains? And even if I can be free, slowly, incrementally, am I truly prepared to walk away from the shackles that have so far kept me restrained, but safe? The great big world of personal freedom is a scary, wide-open place. What if I head off in the wrong direction? Or what if the path I choose is right, but lonely?
Recently, a dear friend who shares my struggle with faith lent me The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. The actual premise is this: a team of atheist and agnostic researchers join a few Jesuit priests on a mission to an alien planet, which is both absurd and fitting if you think about it. The whole experience turns into quite the crisis of faith for the priest who initiated the mission, to say the least. His struggle, to come to terms with a God who has more or less proven himself to be unknowable, hit home for me. In the last few pages, he is back on Earth and one of the priests assigned to care for him explains him to another priest this way:
"There's a series of sculptures... by Michelangelo that you should see. They are called The Captives. Out of a great formless mass of stone, the figures of slaves emerge: heads, shoulders, torsos, straining toward freedom but still held fast in the stone. There are souls like that, Reyes. There are souls that try to carve themselves from their own formlessness. Broken and damaged as he is, Emilio Sandoz is still trying to find meaning in what happened to him. He is still trying to find God in it all."
I want the freedom to find God wherever and however I need to. I want the freedom to explore my spirituality unbound by the heavy stone of right answers and proper theology. I want the freedom to question and to embrace mystery, to be alone and to need people. I want the freedom to exist as I am in the moment, to be confident and change my mind and be wrong. I want the freedom to create and to express and to be different, to see and feel and believe differently than those around me.
And the thing is, it is already mine, this freedom I seek. There is no power on Earth that could keep me from believing, embracing, or rejecting the things I choose. But despite the freedom, I am not yet able to be free. That is the dream I will be working towards, hoping for, this year; For the strength to reach out and seize it, to speak the terrifying truth of it into the tender dark recesses of my soul and to really believe it: I am free.