Reflections on Freedom
It is the day oafter the 4th of July. For many the parades and fireworks are over -- we'll be taking in the fireworks show in the small town of Clawson -- but it isn't too late to think about freedom. There is a lot of talk about freedom these days, with people clamoring for the right to do what they want (well sort of, many don't want you to do what you want), but with freedom comes responsibiity. As I noted in my sermon yesterday from Galatians 5, true freedom is not a natural right, it is a gift of God. True freedom isn't the "right" to do what I want, but rather is the opportunity to serve one's neighbor in love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who has inspired many, but who did not grow up in a democratic context (the Weimar Republic as a short-lived experiment that gave way to totalitarianism). He spent time in America so he had some sense of the matter, but saw freedom less in Enlightenment terms, and more in more of a theological one. Turning to the recently released edition of his Letters and Papers from Prison, I came across this poem entitled "Stations on the Way to Freedom." It appears he wrote this in the summer of 1944, but the date is not certain. I want to share the poem because I think it offers a counterweight to the way we usually conceive of freedom.
Stations on the Way to Freedom
If you set out to seek freedom, then you must learn above all things
discipline your soul and your senses, lest your desires
and then your limbs perchance should lead you no hither, and yon.
Chaste be your spirit and body, subject to yourself completely,
in obedience seeking the goal that is set for your spirit.
Only through discipline does one learn the secret of freedom.
Not always doing and daring what's random, but seeking the right thin,
Hover not over the possible, but boldly reach for the real.
Not in escaping to hthought, in action alone is found freedom.
Dare to quite anxious faltern and enter the storm of events,
then true freedom will come and ebrace your spirit, rejoicing.
Wondrous transformation. Your hands, strong and active, are fetterd.
Powerless, alone, you see that an end is put to your action.
Yet now you breathe a sigh of relief and lay what is righteous
calmly and fearlesslly into a mightier hand, contented.
Just for one blissful moment you could feel the sweet touch of freedom,
Then you gave it to God, that God might perfect it in glory.
Come now, hightest of feasts on the way to freedom eternal,
Death, lay down your ponderous chains and earthen enclosures
walls that deceive our souls and fetter our mortal bodies,
that we might at last behold what here we are hindered from seeing.
Freedom, long have we sought you through discipline, action and suffering.
Dying, now we discern in the countenance of God your own face.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW 8 (Fortress, 2010), pp. 513-514)
I invite you to ponder this poem, consider what it says to us today, the day after we let loose of our patriotic fervor in celebration of a freedom we claim as a natural right. How does the Jeffersoninian version of freedom compare with Bonhoeffer's theological vision?