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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Journey to Freedom

Sunday, January 17, 2021


A Journey to Freedom
Sunday, January 17, 2021

In the Book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the promised land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the promised land is a standing paradigm for the universal struggle from slavery to freedom—and thus for the spiritual journey as well. The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom or it is not real liberation.

The word exodus means “the way out,” as scholar Allen Dwight Callahan explains:

A loanword from the Greek, exodus signifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exodus 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea. [1]

The liberation that Moses leads is first cemented in a “face to face” encounter with God. According to the book of Exodus, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (33:11). God gradually answers Moses’ many objections as to why he should not lead his people: 1) “Who am I?” 2) “Who are you?” 3) “What if they do not believe me?” 4) “I stutter” and 5) “Why not send someone else?” In each case, God patiently stays in the dialogue, answering Moses respectfully and even intimately, offering a promise of personal Presence and an ever-sustaining glimpse into who God is. God is Being Itself, Existence Itself, a nameless God beyond all names, a formless God previous to all forms, a liberator God who is utterly liberated from the limits culture and religion put on any Divinity. God asserts God’s ultimate freedom from human attempts to capture God in concepts and words by saying, “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Over the course of his story, we see that Moses slowly absorbs this same daring freedom. Despite the failings and limitations Moses perceived in himself, he is liberated by God’s faith in him.

It is this same daring and unequivocal freedom that inspired many Black Americans when they read this text. Callahan again: “African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In it they saw their own aspirations for liberation from bondage in the story of the ancient Hebrew slaves. . . . The Exodus signified God’s will that African Americans too would no longer be sold as bondspeople, that they too would go free.” [2]

In working for outer freedom, peace, and justice in the world, we discover the even deeper inner freedom of our True Self in God.

[1] Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (Yale University Press: 2006), 83.

[2] Callahan, 83.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 158‒159.

Story from Our Community:
Millions of us pray daily, ‘let go and let God.’ I think and pray this is a big part of the transformation we need. We’ve let go of so much during the lockdowns, and continue to let go, but with hope . . . — Michelle J.

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.
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