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The Truth Will Set You Free

Sunday, June 14th, 2020

Inner and Outer Freedom

The Truth Will Set You Free
Sunday, June 14, 2020

Authentic spirituality is always on some level or in some way about letting go. In a consumer society, however, we have little training in how to let go of anything. Rather, more is usually considered better. Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Once we truly see what traps us and keeps us from freedom, we should see the need to let it go. As Meister Eckhart said, “the spiritual life is more about subtraction than it is addition.” [1] But capitalist societies make everything into addition.

The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things; it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become ever more free as we let go of our three primary motivations: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem. [2]

Healthy spirituality leads us to true liberation by naming what’s real, what’s true, and what works—now and in the long run. This Ultimate Reality, the way things really work, is quite simply described as love. The wise ones recognize that without a certain degree of inner freedom, we cannot and will not truly love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom. Jesus even commanded it (John 13:34)—though I’m not sure that we really can order or demand love—to show us how central it is.

Most of us didn’t grow up thinking of religion as a path of freedom. Instead, we were taught a set of prescriptions, dos and don’ts, musts, oughts, and shoulds—against which we pushed back, like children always do. When we’re young, we think rebellion is the only path to freedom! Some amount of structure is important, but it is first-level growth. Far too much religion stays right there, “milk instead of meat,” as Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 3:2). [3]

Authentic spirituality, as opposed to mere rebellion, is about finding true freedom. It offers us freedom from our smaller selves as a reference point for everything or anything. This is the necessary Copernican Revolution wherein we change reference points. We discover that we are not the center of the universe any more than the Earth is. We no longer feel the need to place our own thoughts and feelings in the center of every conversation or difficulty.

Although we have to start with self at the center to build a necessary “ego structure,” we must then move beyond it. The big and full world does not circle around any one of us. Yet so many refuse to undergo this foundational enlightenment, which leaves them much less free than they want to be.

References:
[1] Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Romans 8:18, for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday. His original text is Nihil apponendo, sed subtrahendo in anima invenitur deus.

[2] This simple tri-part distinction has been affirmed by many psychologists in many different ways and was also used by Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018) in his understanding of the entrapment of the human person.

[3] See Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, (Jossey-Bass: 2011).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 1 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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