In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, there is imagery that haunts me.
The damned arrive via bus at a meadow on the outskirts of Heaven. They are ghostlike, translucent, fading away. But Heaven is Real — blindingly, agonizingly so. The grass feels like knives. The stream like sharp shards of glass. The flowers are too heavy to lift.
It is unbearable for most of the damned. They return back to hell. They cannot face what is True. And so they are held captive in a prison of their own making.
Jesus said: “The Truth will set you free.” But I don’t believe that the Truth of which He spoke has much at all to do with complex theological systems or abstract authority claims, as we tend to assume in modernity. Instead, the Truth of which he spoke is much simpler…and much more robust.
It is Him.
He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is what sets us free.
He allows us to be who we are.
We are human beings made in the image of God. This means that, fundamentally, “who we are” are creatures built to love as He loves (and He is love). In other words, we have the capacity to be so filled with the Love of God that we melt into Him; we become One with Him. This is the essence of the Great Intercessory Prayer of John 17. This is what He meant when He said that Life Eternal is to know God and Christ. He didn’t mean some rudimentary head-knowledge of God’s characteristics. He meant an experiential, Holy Union, the way we know our most cherished loved ones; a relationship between God and us and the people around us.
Yet so often, we choose not to be who we are. We choose to be who we think we should be. We choose to be who we think others want us to be. We put pressure on people around us to do the same. We pile on layers of deceit and shame, anger and judgment, lust and vice, fear and control. We think we’re doing right, but every layer takes us further and further from Truth, from Him, until we’re wasting away like the ghosts in The Great Divorce.
But here is the miracle of it all: we can be who we are just the way we are. We can choose Him this instant, whatever our circumstances, and He will set us free.
What does it look like?
Freedom in Christ means seeing our best qualities without boasting and our worst qualities without shame. It means seeing others’ best qualities without envy and their worst qualities without judgment. It is being able to change and repent without fear or hesitation, because even when we make mistakes, we know our worth. It is forgiving others before they apologize (or if they never do), because even when they make mistakes, we know their worth.
Freedom in Christ means embracing folks who are as flawed and floundering and foolish as we are (though perhaps in different ways) with the same open arms we’ve found in our union with Him. It is letting those around us be free to experience their own transformations in their own way, trusting that God will do as well by them as He has by us. It is knowing that whatever happens, however painful, He will use it for our good, for we are in Him and He in us.
Freedom in Christ means being transformed so that when He appears we shall be like Him. It is knowing Him even as we are known. It is being who we are — who we really, truly are — and knowing it is Enough.
In a few days, my family is moving from a small town in northern Idaho to a much larger city in the western United States.
It’s hard to believe that we have to move on, yet there’s a sort of completeness that fills me as I think about it. I have no doubt that it’s time for the next phase of our lives…and that we’re ready for whatever comes our way — thanks, in large part, to the preparation of this phase.
And my, what a phase it’s been! My husband was in graduate school for Acting. I think I was in graduate school for life. I’ve learned seriously important lessons over the past 4 years. And since new beginnings are always a time to reflect, I thought I’d share some of them here…
1. The only way out is through.
2. All I’ll ever have is a small glimpse into what is eternally True.
3. God is good.
4. Love means honoring people’s freedom…then giving them all kinds grace when they use it to screw things up. MOST IMPORTANT PART: this goes for me, too.
5. From our greatest trials spring our greatest blessings.
6. It is more important to be authentic than liked. Of course, with few exceptions, it is possible to be both.
7. Wherever I am today is because I chose it.
8. At least 35% of the Avett Brothers’ songs should be canonized as scripture. Case in point:
9. The Kingdom of God is within.
10. I married the right dude. Just look at him.
11. The church is as true as the gospel. Especially because of its flaws.
12. God’s love brings freedom to live from what’s real.
In my last post, I introduced an idea that is fundamental to the way I make sense of this world: a perspective of radical freedom and radical grace.
Today, I want to explore another implication of this approach: the value of weakness.
In our fast-paced, modern world — and, let’s face it, our self-reliant Mormon culture — there is a sense that weakness and vulnerability are signs of inferiority. That when we struggle, it is because we are doing something “wrong”; or, perhaps, not doing enough things “right.”
And sure enough, with the radical freedom we possess, we create much of our own misery with our choices. That’s part of the purpose of this life, after all; to learn by our experience to determine good from evil.
But not all struggle is “choice”-related. Some of it is the inherent frailty of the flesh. We might say that Nature is as Radically Free as we are, and that it evolves all kinds of problems, such as illness, appetite, brutality, and disaster. For all its stunning beauty, the natural world is also viciously cruel: we have no power against a tsunami, for example. We are polarized beings in a polarized world, with sparks of divinity competing against base, fleshly instincts and natural processes that can destroy us in an instant.
Of course, we would not be free otherwise. Without both extremes, it would be like living in the Truman Show or the Hunger Games, with everything, even the weather, perfectly controlled. There are some who view God this way, as Master Game Maker, but not me. I believe that uncertainty, disease, and corruption are the price we pay for freedom. And that it’s worth it.
The question is what we do with it.
This is a post that’s been brewing for a really long time. I’ve got bits and pieces written in fragment after fragment in my drafts folder. It’s a big topic. It’s an important one. At the expense of sounding melodramatic, it pretty much sums up my entire philosophy for living on this planet with other people.
It’s too big a topic to cover comprehensively in a format like this, but I figured I’d at least try to articulate some of the most important philosophical underpinnings. Then I’ll follow it up with a post on how this approach affects the way I interact with people. For the record, this is a faith-based perspective that is deeply informed by my Mormon beliefs and my own experiences with God.
Quite simply, it goes like this: I believe in a world of radical freedom and radical grace.
In Sunday School this week, we’re studying the Psalm of Nephi (2 Nephi 4:17-35).
I LOVE the Psalm of Nephi. It’s one of my favorite passages in the Book of Mormon. It reminds me of how trustworthy and merciful God is, and how frail I am without Him. But I haven’t always felt this way. For a time, it was a baffling bit of scripture. I struggled to fit it into a worldview that left little room for mistakes.
This is the 100th post on my blog! Celebration time!!!!! 🙂
Since it’s my hundredth post, and it’s coming up on the New Year, I thought it might be a nice opportunity for reflection. So I went through some of the old posts I’d written. WOW. What a transformative few years it’s been since I started writing my blog in June 2008.
In some ways, it’s painful to read. In other ways, it’s miraculous. I read between the lines and remember what this journey has been. In particular, it’s striking to revisit the agonizing confusion that came with my fight against OCD, especially before I knew I had OCD (I wasn’t diagnosed until December 2010, but I have been battling it my whole life). I see it in every post, every question. And yet, I would not change any of it. OCD has been my life’s greatest trial; but as is often the case with great trials, it has also provided many of my greatest gifts.
Today, I’d like to share some of the gifts OCD has given me — graces I would not have received were it not for my day-to-day struggle to live a rich, meaningful life despite my disorder. I write this for the benefit of others struggling with difficult trials of every variety (including myself!), but with a special place in my heart for those facing mental illness. I hope this will be a reminder that there is meaning in our battle, that God can create tremendous beauty from even the deepest despair, that there is hope for all of us.
Today, my husband posted a “personalized” Santa Claus video on Facebook that we’d made and sent to our daughter. One of his friends, a staunch atheist, made this comment on the thread: “I’m telling [my son] the truth about Santa, because I don’t want to tell him a lie, besides, if he starts believing cultural mythology, who knows what he might start believing.”
I felt his comment was kind of Grinchy so I fired off a less-than-patient reply — told him that he’d “missed the point.” I immediately recognized that my comment was made in frustration — something I try to avoid, since the Internet is a mean enough place without me joining in — so I quickly deleted my response. He must have seen it anyway, though, because when I logged in again tonight I noticed that he’d added another reply: “Katie, ‘you missed the point’ is an easy thing to say. Please explain what the point is, then I’ll know.”
After some deliberation, I decided I’d answer his question (hopefully with a much gentler spirit than before). This is what I wrote:
My sister posted this video today on Facebook. It is really interesting — well worth the 10 minutes you’ll spend on it.
One thought. The narrator here argues that there is no empathy in heaven, for in heaven there is no suffering. I’m not so sure. See Moses 7, the Beatitudes, or think of Christ’s agony in Gethsemane and on the cross. I believe that if the scriptures teach anything, it is that our God is a God who suffers.
God is love, the scriptures teach. And as anyone who has loved can attest, that does not come without sorrow.
I was recently released from my calling in the primary (hooray!) and called to be a Relief Society teacher (double hooray!). In the past, whenever I’ve taught a Relief Society lesson, I’ve shared a recap here. I’ve enjoyed that, because it’s generated more discussion after the fact — and heaven knows I love a good religious discussion! — and because I think it’s nice to have an archive of lessons that I can look back on over time.
Today’s lesson was called Survival through Faith. It was based on three general conference talks: Faith–The Choice Is Yours by Richard C. Edgley; Our Very Survival by Kevin R. Duncan; and Never Leave Him by Neil L. Anderson.
As best I can recreate it, here’s a short, 5-minute talk I gave on Sunday as part of our ward’s primary program. Topic? “I Know My Savior Lives.” Of all the things I’m thankful for in my life, Jesus is definitely top of my list. It isn’t possible for me to adequately express my feelings about the Master in five minutes or in a simple blog post, but here at least is the crux of the matter for me. Yay Jesus!! 🙂