When the chains of slavery
bind you tight
as you gasp for air
“I am alive!
Isn’t that a right?”
Yet life does not seem free.
Even if comforts abound
if there is sin,
there is no liberty.
Oh cozy chains,
numbing the captive with pleasurable pains,
and the insane.
What is it about these mooring binds
that gets us so high?
Yet so heavy,
they impede us to fly
to the heights
of the mountains
of the Most High!
Oh most hoped for exodus,
meet us soon!
For the chains seem so good
but the cunning deception is making us…
In the first reading of yesterday’s mass of the book of Exodus, I was blessed with the opportunity to learn of the experience of the Jewish people after Moses had liberated them from the bonds of slavery to the Egyptians. Traditionally, such liberation would seem like a blissful event. They were slaves of another, subject to the empires will; but now, free people, owners of their actions and shapers of their pilgrimage on earth. However, even if such occurrence would seem to necessarily result in an unquestionable joy, the responsibility of their new-found freedom brought instead of joy, anguish. Instead of security, insecurity. Not peace, but fear. “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Exodus ch. 16, 3) But why would liberation cause a suffering people such anguish?
On their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Jewish people (as they did in today’s reading) complained to Moses and criticized him for taking them away from Egypt, making them now susceptible to die of thirst and hunger in the desert. While in Egypt, they enjoyed the fruits and comforts of being slaves of a wealthy empire: “We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.” (Numbers ch. 11, 5-6). But now, they suffered the hardships of sojourning in the desert as free men, responsible for themselves, with nothing secure but their ” manna” or freedom from the Egyptians. I find it very interesting that for the Jews to be able to leave Egypt’s domain, they had to strip themselves from all the perks that being a slave entailed. For example, having a roof over their head, a meal every day, and water to refresh their beaten bodies. However, freedom meant to start a-new. They had to begin with their faith in God alone, to leave the securities bought for with the prize of liberty, and to exercise the liberty to pursue their own happiness in their own way, and the liberty to have a land to call their own and to manage according with their moral values and beliefs.
So what can we learn in our own process of liberation from the chains of slavery that bind us from the experience of the Israelites? First, and most important, is that freedom is not an instant action but a process. Sure, as soon as Moses led the people out of Egypt, they were technically free, but it took them a whole 40 years before they could reside on their promised land, a land “flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus ch. 33, 3). Through out this 40 years, the Jewish people had also to free themselves from their prejudgment on what security really meant, they had to free themselves from the fears that such a journey with out comforts would entail, they even had to free themselves from their erroneous ideas of freedom and God, but most of all they had to be freed from the fear of the unknown. The fear of not knowing what they will eat, where they will sleep, and the fear caused by not trusting the Lord’s promise to them. This was in deed a very purifying journey, and one that cost them blood, sweat and tears.
Apart from learning of the necessity of an arduous process to attain freedom, we can also learn how easy it is for security and comfort to fool ourselves into believing we are free. This is clearly evident both for the Israelites and today’s society, in particular the American society, which is founded in the misconstrued idea that because we have the freedom to work hard to posses the American dream, with its houses, its cars and prestige, we are free. However, we can very easily be enslaved to the preconceived idea of success, thus enslaving ourselves for most of our years in a cubicle to have the purchasing power to enjoy the delicacies of food, the fading pleasure of drinking, the comfort of a BMW, and the entertainment of a flat screen T.V. However, is one really free if one is enslaved with the idea that happiness will be attained in such a robotic manner? Does one really enjoy the sweetness of freedom if one enslaves oneself in its free pursuit of happiness? Are we today any more free than the Israelites were in Egypt? This seems not to be the case. Sure we do not have soldiers or masters physically scourging us to continue our work in the next government building, but aren’t taxes an economical scourging that prevent most to use the fruit of their labor as they please? Just because one may have the freedom to pursue happiness this does not mean that one is free. The alcoholic, as free as he may be to buy another drink, has definitely bound his will to the mercy of his vice. He has no will power to reject a drink, but must, as a slave, answer to the perverse petitions of his master, which in this case is alcohol. And so it can be with any vice, whether it be greed, gluttony, lust, etc. hence, true freedom is not limited to our physicality, but it is mostly referring to the freedom of the will to choose that which is best for the soul.
Another aspect of enslavement and the process of liberation that has alerted my soul through this reading, is the apparent comfort that slavery may provide. As I have shown earlier, the Jews constantly complained to Moses and God for having taken them away from their slavery. For though they were not free, they were fed. Almost like animals, they seemed to prefer being supported by the empire than to struggle to freely support themselves. This tells us that slavery in its roots can produce a very comfortable, sheep-like sort of experience. And any fear of leaving the comforts of slavery could prevent us to delve in the journey of freedom itself. This certainly was the case for the Jews and I honestly believe it is the case for us now. Slavery to me is very tightly related with ignorance. And to recognize our ignorance can be a very painful process, especially for such an egotistical society as ours. This is a pain that most would rather not face, and when we do face it, we have two options; to delve deeper into the liberating suffering of detachment from all enslaving preconceived errors, or to turn a deaf ear into the groans of the soul which constantly gasps for free air. Once we are confronted with the opportunity to leave Egypt’s domain, we must also have the strength to be faithful to the journey into Israel. Because clearly, as soon as we depart on this beautiful yet painful journey the memories of the comforts our ignorance allowed will haunt us.
Hence, it can be concluded that freedom is for the brave ones who dare to leave Egypt; who recognize the errors of slavery and who steadfastly journey towards Israel enduring the pains and the darkness of the adventure. Slavery can be comfortable, therefore we must be ready to combat such comforts with the incomparable light that freedom brings, and recognize that being free is a right that we must exercise. For I would much rather live in a constant struggle that will eventually free me from the errors that enslave me, than to die engulfed by these same errors. And so I pray that we allow God to guide us to true freedom, to the land of the Spirit, the land overflowing with “milk and honey”, and that He may strengthen us to be brave warriors in fighting the deceptions of slavery. Amen.
Written by brother Andres Maria