The Risk of Pursuing Freedom

One of the final things I did before leaving the Buffalo area was to see an exhibit on the Underground Railroad at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University. The surrounding towns in that area of New York State served as a convenient crossing into Canada for runaway slaves after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act made staying in the northern “free” states too dangerous.

I was struck by the courage it took for so many slaves to make their way north via the Underground Railroad. Although they benefitted from the kindness (and courage) of the “conductors” along the way, the slaves still had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles with great difficulty, always facing the danger of capture and physical punishment or death. So strong was their drive and courage that they took tremendous risk to obtain their freedom.

My guess is that many other slaves stayed behind out of fear, their own drive for freedom overshadowed by the fear of what they would face if they tried to escape. As painful as slavery was, the pain of lack of freedom seemed preferable to the risks that seeking freedom would entail.

So it often is in our spiritual lives. Growth is painful. Our movement toward freedom from the shackles that bind us is on the one hand spurred by our natural drive for union with God and on the other, hampered by our fears of the pain and difficulty we face along the way. As I’ve said in other contexts, our false self is a delusion, but it is a delusion we’ve grown comfortable with. Giving up the false self and replacing it with our true self requires a painful awakening and therefore great courage. Let us pray for that courage to move constantly toward freedom from our false self and union with God.