What does the freedom of July 4th, often referred to as “Independence Day,” mean to you? If you are from a European heritage? If you are Native American? Or African American, or a woman?
In 1776 and perhaps even today, feelings and interpretations no doubt would be different. From the perspective of the Declaration of Independence writer, Thomas Jefferson, there was great difference in his understanding of freedom for these various groups. Jefferson’s idea of independence did not include Native Americans, African American or women. For Native American people, freedom for America in 1776 meant expulsion from their land. According to Jefferson, there were three options for the Native American population; move someplace else, adopt European values and beliefs, or be annihilated. For most, it became the later. For African Americans, of whom one fifth made up the population, it meant slavery. For women, it meant subservience and submission to men. People like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are not considered among their heroes and the top Presidents of the country. So what kind of freedom and independence do and can they celebrate?
Freedom and independence are not values and feelings we experience very long by being in a certain country. Freedom and independence are ideas that must come from within the mind and soul rather than from outside structure and form. Indeed, a true and deeper freedom comes not from independence from others but from recognition of our common Oneness in Spirit.
In the Christian Bible, this clarification is made often, but none greater than in the recorded words of Jesus himself and of his chief interpreter, Paul. In 2 Corinthians chapter 3, Paul is explaining to his Jewish heritage that true freedom does not come from a country or heritage such as Judaism but from Spirit. He writes of ancient Moses going up on the mountain to meet with God, returning with a shining of light covering his face and body. The people couldn’t take it so he placed a veil over his head. Paul wrote how the veil was still over the heads of those who believe that freedom resides in being a member of a particular heritage and group, be it Jewish, or in whatever group or country one might reside.
“To their very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord it, there is freedom.” Or we could write, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is recognized in awareness, there is freedom.” My understanding of these words is that he is trying to convey that freedom and a sense of independence come from awakening to the Spirit within us. Without such choosing and awareness, with constant trust in country, church, or form in any way, the veil remains over our eyes.
In the book of John, chapter 8, written much later, the writer has Jesus addressing his Jewish followers in the same way. “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?’” And Jesus goes on to say that if anyone believes belonging to a certain structure saves him or her, while excluding others, they are still lost in sin, or missing the truth. For freedom does not come from saying a confession, believing in a group, or having a special heritage; freedom is understanding we are Spirit rather than bodies, countries, or any form. God just Is, and the Is-ness is our true identity.
What then is the truth? The truth is that you and I are One Spirit, connected as One with All others, who in their real essence are Spirit also. It is never because we can say we are members of any special group such as Jewish, Greek, American or whatever nation or religious sect exists in the world. For freedom comes from the awakening to the reality that we are not our bodies but Spirit. “I am not my body but I am free, just as God created me.”
This is a hard teaching for most of us. We were born here with bodies, family names and heritages, country citizenships, and religious names. To understand these as all part of the ephemeral universe and not our eternal, Spiritual heritage leaves us doomed to slavery, specialness, and death. It’s a hard teaching. After all, we spend so much of our time and energy trying to comfort the body, making it feel better, look better, last longer, and look special. These are okay in moderation, but even then, we remember that the body, as countries and structures, are temporal, doomed for non-existence and oblivion. So we seek to remember whose and what we are.
Years ago in the past century, then young Prince Philip, son of the Queen of England and her husband, yearned to not be known as a Prince and member of a Royal family. He said he longed to just be known as a common person. He wanted to be seen that way in school, in sports, and as a member of the Royal Armed Forces. But everywhere he went, people identified him as the Queen’s son, as a member of Royalty. Finally one day he said he could not escape his true identity. He would no longer deny it but would accept it and live it the best he could.
You and I, yes all of us, whether in earthly recognized high places or in low, are members of Divine Royalty. We live most of our lives, or several lives perhaps, in denying it, hiding it with a veil of ignorance over our eyes. We deny or mortality and death and slavery to nothingness. We deny our loneliness and emptiness. We wage wars to secure our properties and life-styles and “independence” but it never seems to end. Death ever lurks at the door; the fear of losing it all haunts our every moment. We drown it out with parties, celebrations, fireworks, travel, thrills and chills, but in moments alone, it returns to nag and scare us; “Who am I? What am I doing here? Does any of this race make any lasting sense? When will I ever get there?”
In awakening, we are suddenly “there!” The veil has been lifted, forgiveness of our many ignorances and sins are realized. We are free and that freedom is “not this, not that” in the never ending cycle. We are home. We are free. We are One with Oneness forever. In all people, regardless of heritage, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or disbeliefs. The endless search can end and accepting our Divine Royalty, we seek to remember we are Love, Kindness, and Eternally Free.
Remembering our identity as One Spirit is still hard for most of us to remember. We think we got it but then it is lost so quickly. We get stuck in this “honey” of life, as the bee, who came to eat the honey but got stuck. We lose our tempers, express hatred toward others, which is really our own self hate, and soon are crawling earth as a lowly worm rather than High Royalty. Then we remember, accept forgiveness and try again, learning little by little the unspeakable freedom that is ours.
Last week I went with my son on a fly fishing trip to the Adirondack Mountains near Lake Placid. For me, it was nearly a disaster. I couldn’t tie the flies, I couldn’t attach the little flies to my line, and even though equipped with waders and special boots, I went under the water twice nearly losing glasses and rod! I wrote a letter later apologizing to my son for being such an ignorant, unprepared fisherman. He wrote back saying I can learn it if I am patient and practice a little each day and week. He also suggested I try a less difficult stream albeit with fewer fish! So I have been reading and practicing. I can now tie the flies (my son made) onto the thin little leader line! I am getting ready to soon try it again. Someday I just might become a fly fisherman of some degree of ability!
Experiencing freedom on a day to day battleground of negativity and trial is difficult. We will fall down and go under often. We will curse the life we have and swear we need to get out! But remembering, reading, and sharing with others with their support will bring us back and back again, with a bit better stability and courage to be there. We can learn to be as free and as loving as any other who ever walked the turbulent waters of this life. We can learn to forgive, give, and share our Oneness, perfecting it as much as possible until the day we leave the body and pass over to the Other Side of Fullness.
No, freedom is not contingent of being born or living in any particular country, each with its own long list of failures and contradictions. Freedom depends on an understanding of Who we are as God’s Sons and Daughters. Freedom of Spirit cuts across lines of sexuality, heredity, nationality, and religious forms. It is seen and lived by faith, by awareness, by remembering. Come, jump in!