How can I write about freedom now, when the world (and my heart) is so often caged?
How can I write about surrender when refugees are turned away?
How can I write about joy when people of color are treated as unequal?
I only have borrowed words to fill my empty cup: “How long, O Lord? How long?”
On September 11, 2001 I was studying abroad in Oxford, England. The principal of the program told us New York was burning. We rushed to a television in the common room, our jaws slack in disbelief. I felt so very far from home.
The next day our group went to see a production of Julius Caesar and the blood and betrayal was simply too much for us to take in. Our wounds were still open. We didn’t have the wherewithal to open ourselves to more bleeding.
One of our associate deans shared C. S. Lewis’ sermon, “Learning in Wartime,” written at the beginning of what was to be World War II. Writing now, too, feels a bit like the “comic discrepancy” between creating art while death looms. Lewis writes:
Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.
War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality.
What is underneath the fears about resettling refugees in the United States, I think, is something rather basic: our fear of death. We move death into assisted living facilities; we call it names like cancer, addiction, old age, war. In our comfortable Western world, we push off death by fixating on the career, the kids’ soccer schedules and exotic vacations.
So when we see the picture of a 3-year-old child washed up on the beach, we grieve, and then perhaps because it’s too painful, we move on. We run to convenience instead of seeing how suffering births deep-down freedom, surrender and joy. A type of freedom that cannot be taken away and is not contingent on the color of your skin or your home country.
So I ask the North American church—knowing I am embroiled in the whole mess, too—“How long?” How long will we be ruled by convenience and nationalism? How long will my own heart run from the hard truths of Jesus?
And I continue to do small things. “The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.” So I get my kids ready for school. I cook hearty meals. I sweep the floor and vacuum and scrub toilets. I invite friends and neighbors in. I pray.
Outrage on Facebook will not change the world. Only Jesus can do that. Jesus changes the world as I listen to the Spirit blow through my windows, opening my eyes to a reality and a world bigger than my home-keeping. So while I vacuum I mutter prayers. I trust there’s an upside-down Kingdom where the Spirit translates my groans, my own feeble “I don’t know how to help.” I’m starting small conversations: asking how I can come alongside those who have already made strides towards justice and mercy right where I live.
The world is spinning and so I ask, how can I write about freedom now? Perhaps though, the question should be: How can I not write about freedom? How can I not see the wider story of freedom written across time, the one where a loving Father comes to get his lost sons and daughters? The one where “everything sad has come untrue?”
For, friends, there is a freedom that is wider than the sky and buoys you up like ocean waves. There is a freedom that smells like mountain air that fills your lungs and travels to the tips of your toes. It’s the sound of chains falling off and of running feet of joyous welcome. It announces with a resounding voice that sounds like mighty, rushing waters: “You are home.”
International Rescue Commission
US Office of Refugee Resettlement
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12 thoughts on “How Can I Write about Freedom Now?”
This does not sound the least bit like “pie in the sky by and by,” which is a tough thing to accomplish when writing about present darkness and giving hope of future light that is yet unseen. I’m turning Tolkien’s words over in my mind and thinking about the day “when everything sad has come untrue” — and I’m thankful to have a reason for hope.
Thank you Michele, those are kind words. Yes, yes, yes, so thankful (right alongside of you) that there is hope in this present darkness.
Ashley, thank you for challenging me to step into the freedom that is mine and to continue to create. We live with our mortality in view but creating keeps me close to the Creator and I’d like to hope that some of that spills out into the community I live among. I appreciated your words today.
Thank you, Randi, for this. Yes, it’s a privilege, a joy and a huge responsibility to be creators. Thanks for being here.
Ashley, I love this and your last paragraph is so full of hope and love and joy! Blessings to you! xo
Thank you Gayl! I’m finding much hope in looking toward glory.
I think your observations about the sanitisation of death are spot-on. I really appreciated hearing CS Lewis’ wisdom on this, too. Thank you
Thank you, Tanya.
“Outrage on Facebook will not change the world. Only Jesus can do that.” I know this to be true. I try to use it as the lens through which I see the words I type on my pages. Let me point only to You, Lord. Such a thoughtful post Ashley. I appreciate the thoughts from C. S. Lewis. Our. Daily. Bread.
Yes, it’s easy to get sucked into the outrage sometimes. Thanks for reading and being here, Traci. Yes, yes, daily bread. It takes away the anxiety.
Powerful words and so right-on! Jesus is the Only Answer to any of this. I find myself feeling helpless, willing to bury my head under the sand because it is all too much. But that is not what Jesus would want me to do. I take this day and look to Him in each moment and ask that He walk beside me and show me what to do and to be. Thank you for these honest and truth-filled words.
I just found you through someone’s blog side panel. I have been blessed although awakened to some desire to bury the hard feelings and hard things of this life, in this world. I, too, want the Garden back where we were God’s and His alone.
Caring through Christ, ~ linda
Thanks so much for being here Linda, and I’m so glad you found the Mudroom. It’s a tricky dance living fully in the world and not being overwhelmed or cynical about it.