In line with Highland Baptist’s “Freedom to Be” series, here are some reflections on our Freedom to be Changed – inspired by Acts 2:14a, 36-41, where we see people find freedom as they are changed – repenting and being baptized. So much has changed for us that joyfully choosing to be changed feels difficult to grasp.
I held this irony while reading a book recently delivered by Carmichaels Bookstore (grateful!) of another woman who has lived through pandemics. After giving up her free life to become an anchoress (a life of “sheltering in place” in the church for prayer), Julian of Norwich discovers a rich and abundant spiritual life. Her inner life and religious devotion have intrigued and inspired centuries of fellow mystics. In her “Revelations,” Julian writes the following:
“God wishes to be known, and God delights that we remain in God, because all that is less than God is not enough for us.
And this is the reason why no soul is at rest until it is tempted of everything that is created.
When the soul is willingly emptied for love in order to have God who is all, then is it able to receive spiritual rest.
Also our Lord God showed that it is full great pleaseure to God that an innocent soul come to God nakedly and plainly and simply. For this is the natural yearning of the soul, thanks to the touching of the Holy Spirit, according to the understanding that I have in this showing –
God of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough to me,
and I can ask nothing that is less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.”
Julian: When they closed the door to your cell, how aware were you of all that you had given up? Did you linger in that last hug with your parents? Did you properly soak in the sights and sounds of all the familiar places, actively storing up memories?
When you voluntarily emptied yourself of all you had known of your life, did you grieve like we are? Did you complain? Question? Regret? Rage against your new powerlessness?
We are compeled to choose to a life of isolation. Most of us have accepted “healthy at home” out of concern for the common good, but some pockets of our nation feel as if they cannot live without their freedom.
You chose a life of isolation. You emptied yourself of everything and yet write as if you’re filled with gentleness, compassion, empathy, and even freedom.
Regardless of how we have gotten into this season, here we are – emptied of yesterdays’ “normal” and emptying tomorrow’s assumptions.
Julian: Over six centuries later, I can see that you found abundant life sheltering in place. What did you know about freedom that we don’t yet know? Give us some hope!
Now that I have emptied my life to the point that it would be unrecognizable to my former self, with what do I fill the hours? I ponder, speculate, and imagine. It is a helpful exercise to expand my mind, but cannot erase the looming uncertainty. The truth of this new life will only reveal itself over time. “With what will I fill the months ahead” is ultimately a rhetorical question from where I sit today.
How do I learn to choose the change when I didn’t choose it in the first place?
How do I embrace the changed life when I’m not sure I want to love it?
How do I allow God to change me when I’m not sure what that change will be?
Carol: I cannot tell you how or with what you will fill your emptied life. I can only point you towards the One who fills emptied lives. I can tell you that my spiritual visions revealed God to be the One who makes us, loves us, and keeps us.
God is the Filler of our Being. Emptying ourselves before this God is the greatest privilege we could ever embrace. Being a person of faith is not about knowing where you will go but knowing that you can trust the One who is leading you.
This global pandemic is slaying our country’s lust for immortality, invincibility, and endless power. We are re-learning the fragility of our flesh. We are suffering from freedom’s withdrawal, which looks like rage for some and sorrow for others. Our calendars are resting, but our souls are restless.
Amidst this moment, could it be that God is setting us free…
To be emptied and yet filled?
To be changed and again converted?
To be mortal and still marked for belonging?
To be who we are and at rest in the hands of our Maker, Lover, and Keeper?
The freedom to be changed looks like a wild willingness to lose my life. It feels like high-risk trust that God will reveal a new life that is worth living.
What if I am emptied of my life and find the life I always wanted?
Julian shouts, over the centuries and the miles with an enthusiastic and resounding, “Yes!” Its volume may be faint, as all voices become a bit muddled through centuries of global change. But you and I both know that whispers can hold more power than the loudest voices.
Julian’s, “Yes!” sends me down to the river so that I might submerge myself again in the baptismal waters. May I spend today repenting and being redeemed as Julian prays over my drenched body –
“All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.”