In his most recent response to me [What shall we do with this cross? Viewpoints, March 27], fittingly published in the run-up to Easter, Rev. Dean Lueking shares what is special to him about the story of Jesus dying on the cross and rising again.
Dean, as I read your thoughts, beautifully articulated as always, I became dissatisfied with my own part in this conversation. I had the feeling “there’s something I’m forgetting to tell Dean.” I sensed it was important – in fact it’s the heart of the matter for me.
I lived in England in the countryside until I was 22. A perfect summer’s day there is sunny and pleasantly warm, the sky a beautiful deep blue. Usually the frequent wet days in between ensure a profusion of color and growth everywhere around. An amazing variety of wildflowers compete for space on unmanaged fields and every small grass verge.
I loved to be outside on those perfect summer days. School was out and my time was my own. I was connected with the world around me in a beautifully simple way. I drank it in and felt happy and free.
There was a simplicity and joy and freedom I had then which I lost along the way as I walked deeper and deeper into institutionalized Christianity. I didn’t realize it was gone until I started to walk away and rediscovered it again.
I have so much freedom I didn’t have 10 years ago. I’m free to be outside and stay there, fully connected and appreciative. Ten years ago I felt I had to turn inwards continually to thank Jesus or ask him for advice. I didn’t realize how distracting and disconnecting that was until I gave myself permission not to do it anymore.
I’m free to enjoy my relationships with other people to the full extent. I can appreciate their uniqueness without value judging them. As we interact, I’m free to follow the conversation wherever it may lead. I can explore what connects with them and abandon what doesn’t. I have no agenda, no essential message I have to pass on, regardless of whether it resonates with them.
I’m free, not to be self-centered but to fully live out my values in the hope of being the best human being I can be. I’ve always wanted to make a positive difference in the world I live in. All that has changed is, I’ve let go of a framework which told me what that looked like and asked me to wear an outfit which often didn’t fit me very well. It was uncomfortably constraining, but I wore it because I thought I had no choice.
The heart of the matter is, I’ve found a joy and freedom and simplicity I love. I’m free to live life to the full. My former outfit still hangs in my closet, and I could wear it again, but why would I, now I know I don’t have to? That would be madness.
Editor’s note: Helen and Rev. Dean Lueking, pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, have been conducting a discussion on faith issues for some time now, beginning with her Viewpoints letter, “Why I don’t go to church anymore.” Other writers are welcome to join in the discussion.