I’d just driven the three hours to my in-law’s house in Central California. The kids were happily getting settled in at Grandma and Grandpa’s place. I decide to sit down and scroll through Twitter. The first thing I notice is
“No. No. No.”
It’s the top trending item. As I click through I learn along with many of you that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had just passed away. Immediately I’m hit with a wave of grief and despair.
To me she had been a bulwark of decency in this most indecent of times.
Over the next day, I write and then cancel several Facebook posts to mark the occasion of her passing. I notice what I really want is to sit in and be present to the grief; the grief of her loss, the grief about the intensification of already toxic public discourse in this election season, the grief and fear that my wife and so many of my sisters are feeling at the question mark of what this means for the advancement of women in our world today.
At the same time I notice this tugging, an inner voice that whispers to me, “You’re a [very, very, very minor] public voice in the community. What will people think if you don’t say anything?” Another voice whispers, “What will people think if you do say something? They’ll just write you off as a hopeless progressive.”
Ultimately, I choose to say nothing on social media and simply try to stay present to the sense of grief and loss. As the weekend goes along, the bitterness and toxicity over social media and media channels feels more and more overwhelming.
Then the Grand Jury in Louisville, Kentucky hands down the decision on the officers involved in the death of Breonna Taylor. The weight of the grief and loss and storm of toxicity feel so overwhelming that I just want to be done with consuming all media. I briefly play with the idea of doing a total media fast until after the election, maybe even until the new year. Maybe you can relate.
But here’s the rub as a White man, I know that I will be ok no matter the results of the election and the SCOTUS nomination process and any of the decisions that are reached in the deaths of unarmed Black people.
I may or may not like the results but I will be okay,
For my sisters and brothers of color it’s a very different story and this political season and election will have a real impact on their lives for years to come. As someone who is called by Jesus to stand in solidarity with those pushed to the margins of our world, I can’t check out and live in a state of sweet ignorance for the next few months.
So I find myself asking the question, what does it look like to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable and avoid the pendulum swings of being so enmeshed in current events that I begin to despair or so disconnected that I can no longer speak as a credible voice for the marginalized?
** Interior Freedom **
I have found some powerful resources to help find this balance in the history of Christian spirituality. Many of the great Fathers and Mothers of the faith spoke of what has come to be known as interior freedom. And I believe it speaks directly to the challenge many of us in ministry (and beyond!) face as we seek to hold the deep pain of our own lives, the pain of our congregations, communities, and even the world this year.
Interior freedom has gone by many names in the history of spirituality; the early Christian monks called it apatheia. Ignatius of Loyola and his Companions of Jesus called it indifference. St. Teresa of Avila called it detachment. Most recent contemplatives simply call it interior freedom.
It is a peaceful place of non-reactivity, a place where we are so united to the will of God that we are able to accept whatever comes knowing it will only further open us up to the love and grace of God.
This is made possible because our inner attachments to things like comfort, wealth, recognition, and power have all been severed by God’s love as it comes to us both in prayer and in everyday life. Our one and only attachment, as Ignatius of Loyola encourages us is to the will of God as expressed through self-giving love. As a result, we no longer react when life happens, we are free enough of our internal attachments to respond in love. Evagrius, an early Christian monk, explicitly says that the fruit of a life that has cultivated interior freedom is love. Where freedom is present in our lives, love will also always be present.
How does this look? One of the many attachments I wrestle with daily is an attachment to the opinion of others. As I wrestled with whether or not to post on Facebook about Justice Ginsburg’s death, I was caught between the two poles of what my progressive friends would think and what my conservative friends would think.
The invitation to interior freedom is an invitation to be in a place where God’s love for me in Jesus has severed that attachment to others’ opinions of me. Then I can simply respond to God’s desires for me. In this case, as I was able to move past the inner voices calling me to care about the opinions of my friends. The invitation from Jesus was simply to be and wrestle with the emotions of grief and loss privately.
We must recognize here that this is not something we can simply will to happen. It’s something that can only happen as we receive the love and grace of God, manifested in Jesus, and made present to us by the Holy Spirit.
This is where we see the beauty of interior freedom for the cultural moment in which we all find ourselves. God’s love doesn’t come to us only through the “good” things of life. It also and especially comes to us through the “bad” things of life. As many wise women and men of faith have observed, God comes to us disguised as our life.
So how is this cultural moment exposing you? What attachments does it reveal coming to the surface as you watch cable news or scroll through your social media feed?
If we can get in touch with the real, lived experience of God’s love, this exposure can be the pathway to freedom rather than the pathway to guilt and shame. If we trust that God is exposing our inner attachments even as we are held in God’s love, we can respond to them with curiosity and open ourselves to the real possibility of God’s love severing those attachments.
When our inner attachments are severed and replaced by God’s love, we are able to find Jesus among the hurting and marginalized of the world and freely and joyfully join him there. As Jürgen Moltmann so memorably put it, “it is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their sufferings.”
My encouragement for you and for me in this moment is to pay attention, notice where God’s love is moving towards us in surprising ways and unexpected places. When we discern Jesus’ love and presence, we will be guarded against despair because we’re held in his love. We will also be spared from detachment because we know the primary place we’ll find Jesus is among the hurting and broken.
May it be so!