freed to be(come)

At an early morning klatch with two friends over vanilla lattes (I had my regular, boring black coffee) we, per custom, talked about current events, our families, health concerns, and job-related issues. coffee

After nearly an hour, our, really their conversation shifted to religion and spirituality. For the next few minutes, I was a privileged listener as they shared vulnerable, introspective words about their journeys. (Some details I knew. Some, not. Nevertheless, I was reminded that knowing something about another is not the same as knowing another.) I was touched, moved at my core. With their permission, I share their testimonies.

“I was born into a church-going family and raised never to question my beliefs, which weren’t really mine. As soon as I could choose, I left church. Later, almost by accident, I stumbled through the door of one in my neighborhood. It felt warm and welcoming. For the first time in my life, I was invited to question what I believed or what I thought I believed. I feel liberated to find myself in ways I’ve never known.”

“My parents were pretty eclectic. They dabbled, sampling a bit of this and that. We moved a lot, too, resettling every few years. I learned tolerance, but I wasn’t sure I believed anything. Here’s where my story’s similar. When I grew up, driven by some vague yearning for connection, I looked for a church. I found one. Teaching the faith is central. Still, questioning is encouraged, even expected. ‘Liberated’ is a good word. I now understand that I believe and what I believe. And I’ve gained a new, deeper sense of myself.”

This morning, thinking of my friends, I reflected on these words: Do not remember the things of old. I, your God, am doing a new thing.

Isaiah prophesied to a captive people in Babylon, who longingly remembered the centuries-old flight to freedom of their forebears from Egypt. Isaiah called the Israelites not to look back to that exodus, but forward to their release from bondage, declaring that this new thing would be liberation and transformation. In that first exodus, the people passed through desert that remained desert. In this new exodus, the people would pass through wasteland remade: “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” river in desert2

Did rivers flow in the desert? Probably not. But that’s not the point. The prophecy wasn’t about wilderness, but people. They were to be transformed. Freed to be and to become who they were created to be: “I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, those whom I formed for myself to declare my praise.”

My friends, liberated from their pasts, felt transformed. Or perhaps they, believing themselves transformed, felt liberated. I don’t think it matters. For a commonality of their experience, one that works in either direction, is community, which, bearing gifts of challenge and acceptance, grants freedom to be and to become.

This I continue to relearn through the communities in which I, paraphrasing a prayer, live and move and have my being. I am challenged by criticism earnestly given and praise honestly bestowed. I am called to be truthful about myself, to live authentically; more honest, present, responsible, response-able, and when I fall short to try again.

As it was for Israel, for my friends, and for me, so I believe for all: People make a person.

This word, though not daring to call it prophetic, is important for our cyber-connected, hyper/über-cluttered warp speed world. Though community and communication derive from the same root, meaning, to share, we have numerous ways to connect without seeing faces, hearing voices, touching or holding hands. We live moment to atomistic moment, in tightly spiraling, largely non-concentric and separate circles; disengaged from others and ourselves, except in those moments of seemingly random collision that pass for human encounter.

As I believe my friends discovered, it is a radically counter-cultural and ever new thing to seek one’s self and life in community, discerning afresh the truth of that paradox: We can be and become fully our individual selves only with and through others.

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3 thoughts on “freed to be(come)

  1. Thanks Paul for sharing an excellent story about your friends. I had an emotional experience on Tuesday, that I was going to blog about but changed my mind. But reading this post, I’ll share it here.

    While at the CVS Pharmacy on Tuesday I overheard a conversation between a woman and the pharmacist. The woman, who appeared to be about 75 years old, had shingles and was there to pick up her prescription, and you could tell that she was in pain by the way she was leaning on the counter. She had a large box of rice and several cans of tuna fish, and several packs of Oodles of Noodles to purchase along with her prescription. She had $60 in her hand to pay for it all. The pharmacist then announced that her co-pay was $107 and that of course didn’t include her groceries. The very distraught woman then declared loudly, “but this is all the money I have until the end of the month, I need my medicine!! Why is the co-pay so high?”. The pharmacist, unmoved by the woman’s desperation and her question simply took the prescription off the counter, as if she believed the woman was going to run off with it. She asked the woman if she still wanted the groceries.

    Another lady was standing behind me at the other side of the counter and we looked at each other as the woman began to cry and proclaim “Jesus, don’t leave me in all this pain, What am I going to do?” and “help me Jesus”. The other lady and I together without saying a word went to where the pharmacist and the woman were standing. I said to the woman “I’m happy to help you pay for your items”. She looked at me, and reached up at my jacket, and pulled her head up off the counter as if I had rescued her from drowning. “You will?” she asked. The other lady, said “me too!!” So, she and and I split the cost of the prescription and the groceries, paying $62 each so that the woman with shingles could keep her entire $60 to last the rest of the month. The woman asked for our addresses so she could ask her son in Arizona to pay us back, but we both declined and left the store. I got to my car and burst into tears. I had my Mom’s prescription in my hand, having no difficulty paying for her items. But watching the woman try to choose between groceries and her medicine and then being so distraught to call out to Jesus to help her was almost too much for me. I was angry that the pharmacist had NO compassion for this women, nor did she offer any suggestions or alternatives. I gathered from this that the pharmacist had probably seen this so many times that she was immune to it. As we all left the store, the woman kept saying “Bless you both”, and “God is good”…… But I couldn’t stop thinking about the agonizing choice she faced, and what would have happened if we hadn’t been there. Prior to the start of the conversation we overheard, the other lady and I were both immersed in our cell phones, being “uber-connected” as you put it, but thank God we put our devices down long enough to help a fellow human being in need. I felt changed and emotionally drained as I drove home…..One of the things that stuck in my mind the most, was the last thing the woman said to us was “I knew God wouldn’t leave me in all this pain when I needed my medicine”. Even through her tears her faith led her to believe that ALL would be well when it certainly didn’t seem to be well. Even writing about this two days later still is very emotional for me. We really never know who we are going to become with and through others. I learned a lot from that woman, and a lot about myself too. Thanks!

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  2. Loretta, I cannot speak for that woman in need regarding her experience of prayer and response. I can say that her cry to Jesus for help was met through you and the woman who was your in-the-moment-partner-in-the-sublime-act-and-art-of-self-sacrificial-service. Miraculous!

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  3. Thanks! I’m still trying to figure out why this impacted me so greatly!! I’ve thought about this a great deal this week. I really appreciate your take on it!

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