A Liberating Spirit — Center for Action and Contemplation

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A Liberating Spirit


A Liberating Spirit
Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Holy Spirit is a liberating Spirit. Even when we experience lack of freedom in our daily lives, time in prayer can be an experience of full freedom in God’s presence. I sometimes miss the exuberance of the charismatic movement of which I was a part in the 1970s and the freedom we felt to worship God with our whole selves. Theologian James Cone (1938–2018) writes about the deep sense of freedom experienced in the communal worship of the Black church in the United States:

Black worship itself is a liberating event for those who share the experience of the people that bears witness to God’s presence in their midst. Through prayer, testimony, song, and sermon the people transcend the limitations of their immediate history and encounter the divine power, thereby creating a moment of ecstasy and joy wherein they recognize that the pain of oppression is not the last word about black life. It is not unusual for the people to get “carried away” with their feelings, making it difficult for an observer to know what is actually happening. But the meaning of this event, according to the people, is found in their liberating encounter with the divine Spirit. In this encounter, they are set free as children of God. To understand what this means for black people, we need only to remember that they have not known freedom in white America. Therefore, to be told, “You are free, my children” is to create indescribable joy and excitement in the people. They sing because they are free. Black worship is a celebration of freedom. It is a black happening, the time when the people gather together in the name of the One who promised not to leave the little ones alone in trouble. The people shout, moan, and cry as a testimony to the experience of God’s liberating presence in their lives. . . . [1]

Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. It does not matter what oppressors say or do or what they try to make us out to be. We know that we have a freedom not made with human hands. . . . For black people’s singing, praying, and preaching are not grounded in any human potentiality but in the actuality of God’s freedom to be with the oppressed as disclosed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is their freedom. [2]

The early church surely knew the liberating effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the apostle Paul’s teachings had so much impact because he restored human dignity in another time of widespread oppression, slavery, and injustice. Into the corrupt and corrupting Roman Empire, Paul shouts, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). He utterly levels the playing field: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world was born in which everyone is free.

[1] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed. (Orbis Books: 1997), 132–133.

[2] Cone, 129.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis: 2018), 91.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in a quiet little idyllic Midwestern town. In my mid-40s I began to experience disorder through burnout in ministry, only I didn’t know what it was. I was afraid I was losing my faith completely. After first coming in contact with Fr. Richard through “Falling Upward” I eventually ended up finding the “Another Name for Everything” podcast as well as these daily meditations. Each of these interactions is such a tremendous aid in my own continually unfolding pilgrimage. Richard often gives words to the unspeakable wrestlings of disorder and a vision of a reality re-ordered that keep resonating in me. —Don R.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.

A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

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