Stations on the Way to Freedom
If you set out to seek freedom, then you must learn above all things discipline of your soul and your senses, lest your desires and then your limbs perchance should lead you now hither, now yon. Chaste be your spirit and body, subject to yourself completely, in obedience seeking the goal that is set for your spirit. Only through discipline does one learn the secret of freedom.
Not always doing and daring what’s random, but seeking the right thing, Hover not over the possible, but boldly reach for the real. Not in escaping to thought, in action alone is found freedom. Dare to quit anxious faltering and enter the storm of events, carried alone by your faith and by God’s good commandments, then true freedom will come and embrace your spirit, rejoicing.
Wondrous transformation. Your hands, strong and active, are fettered. Powerless, alone, you see that an end is put to your action. Yet now you breathe a sigh of relief and lay what is righteous calmly and fearlessly into a mightier hand, contented. Just for one blissful moment you could feel the sweet touch of freedom, Then you gave it to God, that God might perfect it in glory.
Come now, highest of feasts on the way to freedom eternal, Death, lay down your ponderous chains and earthen enclosures walls that deceive our souls and fetter our mortal bodies, that we might at last behold what here we are hindered from seeing. Freedom, long have we sought you through discipline, action, and suffering. Dying, now we discern in the countenance of God your own face.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s poem was written from prison near the end of his life. It suggests a *Spirit-uality for a life well-lived. And perhaps some insight for negotiating the troubled times we are undergoing.
If so, the life it limns is daunting. At least to a contemporary American. Discipline, Action, Suffering, and Death are not hallmarks of our culture. To not be led hither and you by our desires but in control of ourselves aiming our lives at their true north is a challenge few of us today are up for. According to Bonhoeffer, though, this is the way to freedom.
Doing the right thing, reaching for the real, and acting on this conviction in the hurly burly of daily life, this too is a way to freedom. More than just random activity, a busy life, Bonhoeffer’s call to action is driven by human faith and divine command into the embrace of freedom.
Suffering comes to each of us who seek freedom. We stop or are stopped. Activity ceases. We can do no more. Or else but one thing more. We can lay our lives, their justification, their fruitfulness, their meaning, into God’s mighty hands that he may perfect the touches of freedom we have had along the way into the visage of the thing itself.
Finally, death. Always death. According to Ecclesiastes death is the great leveler, the mighty mocker of all our pretentions to have amounted to something. Those however, who have sought freedom in discipline, action, and suffering, will find in death the foyer to our joyous encounter with Freedom itself. And in Freedom’s face we see the face of God.
Daunting? Yes, to be sure. Especially where we are and who we have become as a people following our idols of unfettered choice, entertainment rather than inner-tainment, avoidance of suffering, and fear of death. But for the grace of God we’d never even try what Bonhoeffer suggests. Grace, though, is just what he presupposes, the reality on which he premises the possibility for the living of such a life.
This life of freedom sketched by Bonhoeffer s one way to say what needs to happen for an America bedeviled by racism and abounding in visciousness and violence, seemingly helpless to do more than quote Martin Luther King, Jr. and implore one another to come to our senses about guns and race. None of that cuts any water against what we face. This is the crucible of our time, perhaps for our country’s survival. People much hardier and more durable than most of us are needed. People who are not strangers to these “Stations of Freedom” Bonhoeffer lauds. God stands ready with grace sufficient for all who choose to tread this path. What do you choose today?