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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