We just finished celebrating July 4th, the day in the U.S. when we observe our independence from then King George and Great Britain (thanks to Hamilton: An American Musical I am a little bit more educated on how that all happened). It was 246 years ago that our founding fathers (note no founding women/mothers…) signed that ever famous document, the Declaration of Independence. What does that piece of paper mean to us today, and more importantly, in relation to our faith? There isn’t even enough space in the blogosphere to begin to fully answer that question, as it is deeply complex, nuanced and personal. I offer you simply my own reflection.
When I think of independence I think of freedom and when I think of freedom I think of many things. One is the Aretha Franklin song titled “Think” which has as its memorable refrain: “Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom)” repeated numerous times. My stream of consciousness also goes to freedom of speech (our 1st Amendment to the Constitution), freedom to love, freedom to choose our career, freedom to breathe, freedom from unhealthy relationships/marriages, freedom to be educated in a public school for free and so many more freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis, most of which we never stop to reflection on. We are very fortunate here in the U.S. as so many people around the world have substantially less freedom than we do.
Of course there are the two hotly debated freedoms/divisions in our country that we cannot avoid, even if we wanted to: the freedom to bear arms (2nd Amendment) with as little regulation as possible and the freedom to choose life/the dignity of the unborn child vs. freedom to choose bodily autonomy/health for women/personal integrity. I think a critical point often gets lost in the rhetoric of these issues when we as a society debate (or if we are Christians debate and pray over) them. It is the acknowledgement that electing freedom towards something inherently means electing freedom from something else. It’s akin to the basic law of physics that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction.
So as I reflected on what freedom means to me, I wanted to bring Ignatius into the conversation. Those of us familiar with Ignatian spirituality know the concept of interior freedom, which is most easily understood as “living life with open palms, free of inordinate attachments.” Ignatius asks us to be free from outcomes. In other words, to not ask for sickness or health, wealth or poverty, a long life or a short life. Rather, to have the freedom to choose how we can best praise, honor and love Jesus.
Taken at face value, this may seem at first blush as a rather heavy and lofty ask. Who wouldn’t want a healthy, rich and long life, afterall? It certainly beats the alternative! For me, the best way to daily have interior freedom is to constantly place my trust in Jesus, so that when I face the ailments of life, I am free to know and believe that God is with me, no matter what. No matter the results or the outcomes. Trust therefore is the vehicle to interior freedom. When we trust, alas we are free.
So, as we mark another anniversary of our country’s independence, how will you be truly free in all aspects of your life, most especially your spiritual livelihood?
Miranda, Lin-Manuel. Hamilton: An American Musical. Directed by Thomas Kail, BroadwaySF, 26 Jun 2019, Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, CA.
Franklin, Aretha. Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom). “Think.” Arthea Now. mp3. Atlantic Records. 1968.
Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology