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What Keeps You From Being Fully Free?


Then you shall take some of the blood, and put it on the door posts and the lintels of the houses . . . and when I see the blood, I shall pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
-Exodus 12:7 & 13

They thought they were safe
that spring night; when they daubed
the doorways with sacrificial blood.
To be sure, the angel of death
passed them over, but for what?
Forty years in the desert
without a home, without a bed,
following new laws to an unknown land.
Easier to have died in Egypt
or stayed there a slave, pretending
there was safety in the old familiar.

But the promise, from those first
naked days outside the garden,
is that there is no safety,
only the terrible blessing
of the journey. You were born
through a doorway marked in blood.
We are, all of us, passed over,
brushed in the night by terrible wings.

Ask that fierce presence,
whose imagination you hold.
God did not promise that we shall live,
but that we might, at last, glimpse the stars,
brilliant in the desert sky.

-Lynn Ungar from Blessing the Bread

Last night began the Jewish feast of Passover.  One of my good friends is a rabbi and a couple of years ago she had this marvelous seder meal.  She set up a tent inside her home with a long table and cushions around it and everyone who came was invited to be a character from the Exodus story.  My husband and I came as the plague of darkness, mostly because dressing in black seemed the easiest costume to come up with.  As the evening unfolded we told that familiar story of liberation together, and as each of our parts came up we were invited to tell the community gathered our perspective on the events.

The refrain of the evening, my friend would ask all of us gathered repeatedly, was this:

“What keeps you from being fully free?” 

I remember the way that question hummed in the air again and again.  I can still hear it now beckoning to me to live into its invitation.  Each time she asked I could name something different.  I could taste the multitude of things, voices, distractions, and beliefs that keep me imprisoned.  I understood how the Israelites might grumble in the desert after finding their difficult freedom. 

I adore Lynn Ungar’s poetry and wish I could find an affordable copy of her Blessing the Bread book.  In the meantime I receive her words in my emails from Panhala hungrily each time they have appeared.  We only have the “terrible blessing of the journey.”  The road is not promised to be easy.  In fact, if we are fully awake we must step into the suffering that ripples across this fragile and tender world.  We must swim in the ocean of sorrow to be able to swim in the ocean of joy.  They are in fact the same body of water that also pulses through our veins.

“Whose imagination do you hold?” Another marvelous question to ponder during these holiest of days for Jews and Christians.  Can we allow our imaginations to expand and embrace more possibilities than we previously thought?  As we journey together toward the awful pain of death on Friday, can we truly imagine the life waiting for us on the other side?  Can we allow God to be so much bigger than we anticipated?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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8 Responses

  1. Cathleen, yes, yes, freedom does cost us and yet so often we look for the safe route, the one that does not demand anything of us. Thanks for your lovely words! Christine

  2. I think of how often we want safety over faithfulness or authenticity. This week reminds us that safety is not the core issue, and that freedom comes with a cost. What if we kept an Easter vigil in a tent with our children…….
    Like the above comments, I add my thanks for your thoughts, questions, insights, and photos. Blessings of new life to you!

  3. Thank you Krina! That is so very kind of you. I am honored.

    I agree Bette, that as children we often experience more freedom to imagine. The tent she had was beautiful and spacious inside. I just found Lynn Ungar’s email address so I am going to try and get in touch with her and see if she has any old copies of that book she might be willing to sell. (and to tell her how amazing I think she is)

    Blessings, Christine

  4. Good morning over there Christine. I like the idea of putting up a tent in the house. Use to do that when the kids were younger. Nothing like making a fort. If we could return to the mind of a child, I think we would experience more freedom.

    Lynn Ungar’s writing is awesome. I just read her “Flower Communion” and about melted. I wish her book you mention could be found in a used book store for a couple of bucks. I’ll keep a look-out for it. Going to Half Price Book Store this afternoon.

    Thank you for your beautiful writing.
    Bless you and your husband this Easter time.

  5. Hi Christine, I admit I am behind in reading and haven’t read this yet but I did want you to know I tagged you for an award, the details are on my site. Nothing so glamourous at the nomination, just a little something to say thank you for your thought provoking posts because although I seldom have the opportunity to complete a response to your lovely questions they stick with me and I like chewing on them.

    blessings, Krina

  6. Thanks Milton, it is a wonderful poem and image, isn’t it? And I am delighted to hear that I inspired you to free yourself from some books you no longer need.

    Songbird, thanks for such a thoughtful and gracious comment. You are most welcome. I am grateful to hear that my words have been on target.

    Blessings to you both, Christine

  7. “What keeps you from being fully free?”

    Mostly me, I fear.

    Your writing has been powerful and moving throughout this season, Christine, and I want you to know how much I have appreciated it. Some days the question or the theme feels so directed to me that I can hardly bear to read it! Thank you, thank you.

  8. Great questions, Christine, and an amazing poem. I’m struck by the thought that I hold God’s imagination and I wonder what God imagines of and for me.


    PS — I’ve learned from you on many levels, not the least of which is I’m mailing some of my old books to a new found blogging friend because he can use them. Thanks again.