Spiritually Free

Romans 8:12-17  Inclusive Bible

Therefore, we are under obligation, my sisters and brothers—but not to the flesh or to live according to the flesh. If you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if you live by the Spirit, you will put to death the evil deeds of the body and you will live. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. For the Spirit that God has given you does not enslave you and trap you in fear; instead, through the Spirit God has adopted you as children, and by that Spirit we cry out, “Abba!” God’s Spirit joins with our spirit to declare that we are God’s children. And if we are children, we are heirs as well; heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, sharing in Christ’s suffering; and sharing in Christ’s glory.

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What does it mean to be spiritually free?

When you ask that question of yourself, what thoughts come to mind?
What do you see, hear, taste, touch, feel, and experience?

What would it mean for you to have spiritual freedom?

Let’s start our conversation with a dialogue about spirituality itself.

What is spirituality?

Today there is most certainly confusion about this word or the idea of being “spiritual.” Some confuse spirituality with religion and others completely separate the two things.

And I’m sure you’ve heard of the ongoing conversation about the label “spiritual but not religious.”

Let’s be clear about something—spirituality does not require religion whatsoever. Spirituality is not even about going to a church, praying, or doing religious rituals. Religion can be, for some, a launching pad for spirituality. But not for everyone. Spirituality is free from even religion.

Let’s define it:

Spirituality is the seeking and the experiencing of something greater than the physical, material world.
It is the seeking and experiencing of something greater.

This seeking and experiencing happens in our minds, without a doubt. To say that we don’t use our brains in the spiritual journey is to deny what is absolutely essential. NO, we have to be aware and we need to use our brains in the seeking of spirituality.

Psychologists like Dr. Itai Ivtan, who wrote the book Awareness is Freedom: the Adventure of Psychology and Spirituality, agree. Dr. Ivtan states:

Spirituality…is all about self-transcendence, which is the experience of moving beyond one’s self and experiencing a connection with life beyond the narrow perspective of the self. Spirituality is an invitation to realize, on an experiential level, that in essence we are truly connected to everything and part of all that is around us and within us. It is letting go of the interpretation of life while moving towards seeing and experiencing life as it is.

He goes on:

Being able to break your old patterns of reaction, and having the capacity to see life clearly, provides an incredible feeling of empowerment and freedom. Knowing that you are not bound to your automatic ego-based reactions, and therefore can re-write the story of your life every single day, is truly rewarding.

Spirituality involves knowing yourself in such a deep way that you are capable of moving past your knee-jerk reactions to things and instead, you see and interpret life as it is.

Every religion, including Christianity, emphasizes spirituality above dogma, doctrine, and religious ritual. Unfortunately, throughout history, we as human beings have been prone to de-emphasize spirituality and focus on all the rest. I would argue that this is why there are so many wars and so much violence in the name of a certain religion. Having met and befriended so many people from different religious backgrounds, I can tell you that all of us share values that completely overtake our differences. It is up to us to emphasize these values, and yes—they are spiritual values.

Paul of Tarsus [south-central Turkey, really] wrote various letters that fill out what we call the New Testament of the Bible. Actually, from what scholars can figure out, Paul’s letters are some of the earliest writings in the NT and certain Pauline letters predate the Gospels. So in essence, as Paul addresses various communities of people, it’s good to keep in mind that the Gospels were being written during and after his time.

That being said, each letter of Paul addresses a particular audience, and while some today will claim that each and every word of the Bible is to be taken literally, I simply beg to differ. Paul was writing to certain people at a specific time and in a particular place. Certainly, some of their issues are universal and we can relate. But we cannot downplay the unique context of these letters. The people of Paul’s time were dealing with issues that we don’t even know about; we are dealing with issues that they never would have considered.

So it’s important for us in 2015 to understand that Paul of Tarsus is most certainly not talking To US, but to another group of people. Let’s read these words accordingly.

The overall theme and feel of Paul’s letters is what is of most importance, not their specific details. So in this letter to the Romans, Paul is talking again and again about one issue:

Freedom.

We have to say [even though it hurts] that in Paul’s world, slavery was real. I won’t gloss over this. Slavery was real. People were enslaved. In the United States and in many, many imperialistic countries, slavery was and is real. People were and are enslaved. This is the context that we share.

So freedom for Paul was multi-layered, and in this sense, I think it is for us, too.
Because, I am sad to say:

There are people enslaved simply because of their skin color.
There are people enslaved because of sexual orientation; or gender; or religion; or lack thereof; or economic status; or nationality.
Slavery is unfortunately real.

And so Paul’s comments do apply to us today, at least in this sense.
Many of us are slaves, even to a religion, or a philosophy.

And Paul says: we have no obligation–at least to the flesh.

The flesh isn’t really our human flesh, but in fact the material world, society, the structures that make up the organized world. To live according to the flesh was death, not in a literal sense, but meaning that if you lived according to the status quo of what the world told you was “normal” or “right,” you would be a zombie. In essence, you would be dead.

So Paul makes a clear distinction between the flesh and the spirit.

Aha! The spirit is about recognizing freedom—that all of us are children of the Creator and no longer enslaved, but free to be ourselves. Paul writes that we are able to call God “Abba” and this is significant. Abba is a term of endearment, you see. God now becomes a friend, a loving parent, a caring, nurturing, presence.

Paul continues to say that God’s actual Spirit joins with our spirit.

Think about that.
Our spirit joins with God’s spirit?

We, according to this letter, are one with God.

I don’t know about you, but I feel and think that we are all meant to be spiritually free. All of us, no matter the religion, or no religion, are meant to be spiritually free. We are meant to pursue what is greater than society, government, religion, status quo, the material world—we are meant for so much more.

We are meant to question all dogma and doctrine and self-righteous rules and regulations. We are made to move towards freedom—breaking everything that limits us. There is something that is within us all, and Jesus of Nazareth said that this something was wind, something that pulls us away from the frustrating and annoying limits of the material world.

We are pulled towards a limitless existence, one in which we are truly free.[1]

So ask this question daily:

What does it mean for me to be spiritually free?

[1] Sadhguru, www.isha.org

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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