Freedom and Liberty Meditation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

It is 1962 and I am on Robben’s Island in a 10’x7′ cell. It’s the thirteenth century A.D. and I’m on a battle field south of Scotland wielding a sharp weapon. It’s 1605, and I am seated at a desk in Savoy overlooking a body of water, pen in hand. It’s 1776, and I’m convened with other delegates for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

It’s been a busy morning in my imagination and prayer this Fourth of July as I contemplate notions of freedom and liberty. I’ve been reading all about the life of former South African president  Nelson Mandela; gone to images of Scotland’s legendary freedom-fighter William Wallace, aka “Braveheart”; mulled over  Salesian Scholars’ writing on the letters of Visitation co-founder, St. Francis de Sales; and imagined the scene of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Busy morning I tell you.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ― Nelson Mandela

In each case, my research and reading* informs my prayer and inspires my questions: What does it mean to be truly “free”? With freedom, what are my responsibilities? How do faith and liberty inform one another and move me to act or live in a certain way as a citizen and simultaneous religious person?

These clearly are not new questions for any person to contemplate. (Thank you Founding Fathers.)

What is new, however, is the time in which we mull over notions of liberty and spirit.  As former President Mandela lies in a hospital bed in Pretoria, South Africa, recovering — or nearing his end — his life’s journey speaks volumes to me.

Imprisoned for his political activity to fight to end apartheid, Mandela’s witness as a leader and revolutionary are simultaneously prophetic. His radical actions, after a thirty year imprisonment, to bring about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, were rooted in a faith tradition that acknowledged both hurting sides of the apartheid rule. Mandela knew that for a nation to move forward together, freely, they would need to grieve together and forgive the wrong doing enacted by an oppressive regime, that kept either side imprisoned.

Reflecting on his life,  in juxtaposition with this day’s United States national holiday, I am moved considering the healing and forgiveness any nation requires as it strives to grow and be a place of freedom and equality for all.

Where do you seek sage counsel?

Where do you seek sage counsel?

This past week the United States’ Supreme Court made a decision that impacts women and men across this nation who have felt called to marry another person of the same gender. In Congress this past seven days, elected officials have been considering the way immigrants are treated when they have crossed the border and desired to stay.

So much is at hand in our current circumstances that begs attention, reflection and prayer. This is why I turn to our history, to freedom fighters from here and abroad, and seek sage counsel in the spiritual leaders at the helm of the Visitation Order.

Where do you go for guidance? What do your contemplative questions give rise to in your own prayer and actions? How are you celebrating your faith and freedoms this day?

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Reading Resources:
FREEDOM TO LOVE: A Close Reading of St. Francis de Sales Letter 14 October 1604 to Jane de Chantal by Alexander  T. Pocetto, OSFS, Ph.D.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The Vowed Life

Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna

Where do our vows begin?

Practicing our commitments start long before they are actualized. Long before we may even know what we want to become or more importantly who we are to become.

First I do Proclamation in Crazy Coupe Car

First I do Proclamation in Cozy Coupe Car

In the green carpet of closely shaved grass I watched my one year old purposely and excitedly walk around his cozy coupe car and climb inside proudly proclaiming “I do,” as much to himself as to others in his proximity. I watch his feet feel the uneven ground. His sway teeters side to side, his gaze is focused on the task at hand. His first verbal “I do,” to match all the I-doing he has done for the past three months. This is the beginning of a refrain I know I will hear for the upcoming year. We are entering the phase where I back up and watch him do.

In that swift brushstroke of cut-grass-clinging-to-bare-feet-of-a-moment, I realize we start practicing our vows, our commitments long before we choose them or they claim us. We begin vocational practice with our one-year-old phase of “I Dos!” and grow them.

“I do,” an assertion of our autonomous self on any and all chosen tasks. An attitude, which often overrides frustrations, which compels us to practice the mundane until mastery, and which builds a pride and self-confidence that imprints upon our cellular memory.

However, autonomy only exists in relationship with community, and our verbal proclamations exist only in relationship with silence. I spent a morning at Clouds in Water Zen to steep myself in silence amongst others. I craved silence, and wanted it in community. I resisted the urge to fall asleep, head bob after head bob as I sat on my meditation cushion trying to “Be still!” in a Maurice Sendak sort of way. Trying to sink into silence; not sleep. Watching my idealized silence slip away to my reality of surprised exhaustion.

After the silence, Byakuren Judith Ragir gave a Dharma Talk on the Five Ranks of Buddhism, asking us to think about it more as a landscape you move through over and over again.”To meet what is before you with intimacy whatever that is, is a marker of a development of mature faith.” Ragir took both hands scooping the air before her toward her heart and repeated, “To meet what is your present with intimacy.” Then she let the silence fall before her and amongst us.

Five year old Nizzel George

Five year old Nizzel George

Ahhh I sighed, but how do you meet with intimacy tragedy from violence? How does a mother or grandmother do as the gospel implores us, “To harden not our hearts,(Ps 95:8)” when only last week a five year old boy from north Minnepolis, Nizzel, was shot by a spray of bullets as he slept on his grandmother’s couch. Nizzel was buried today, and according to the Star Tribune “Bishop Richard D. Howell Jr. ended the ceremony with a call for the north side to stop the violence, ‘Let’s call it the Nizzel Pledge,’ he said.” It is an image that sears me as I sit on my couch, my back to my picture window, my boys alive before me, tears stream down my face, as I sit in silence listening. Listening to Sister Katherine share, “Only five years old. His life, as is everyone’s was so worth living. Nizzel, we will be with your mom, dad and grandma and everyone else at Shiloh Temple, lovingly supporting your family. Your grandma came to our house last night. We prayed and cried together. You were a wonderful child.”

Silence will give way to celebration tomorrow. On a day when firecrackers ring, hearts break open again as we remember the loss of Anthony, a young African American teen from north Minneapolis, who died far too young two years ago on the fourth of July. Well before his “I dos” were realized.

As I listen to firecrackers sound tonight I cannot help but think for some the sounds ricochet like haunted bullets and I find I jump at their sound as I write this. Or for war veterans and refugees the sight of them exploding in the night sky brings flash backs of bombs, terror one cannot fully heal from.

Yet our gospel call is to live our “I do’s, to harden not our hearts, and to meet what is before us with intimacy,” whew no easy task! Lately, when I do my morning runs, I practice running with my chest open to the world so that my heart leads my runs, with my gaze strong and steady at a distant point so as not to lose sight of what is before me, pleading my awareness, begging me to meet it with intimacy. I practice an open sure-footed posture as I hit the uneven ground beneath me.

We need silence. We need good posture toward others and ourselves. We need the courage and practice to say I do out loud long before we say it to a lifelong commitment. It starts when we are one, fresh feet kissing the green earth, walking with a proud posture exploring our infinite world, proclaiming I do as we climb into our cozy coupe cars ready to steer our paths toward deeper joy and open to that which may break our hearts.