pastoral/spiritual care

Slavery vs. the Unknown

In her wonderful book My Grandfather’s Blessings, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen recounts the first time she can remember hearing the Passover story as a child from her grandfather, a rabbi.  As she hears of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea and God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt, she asks, “Are they very happy, Grandpa?”  To her surprise, her grandfather tells her that the people are not happy.  Confused, she persists: 

“‘But they were suffering, Grandpa.  Why didn’t they want to go?’  My grandfather looked sad.  ‘They knew how to suffer,’ he told me.  ‘They had done it for a long time and they were used to it.  They did not know how to be free. . .  the choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom.  We will always have to choose between slavery and the unknown.’”  (p. 371-372)

Much like the Israelites, we are scared of the unknown at times.  And if we are not careful, we can let that fear keep us enslaved.  The more difficult choice is stepping out of what is familiar and beginning to walk a path the end of which we cannot see.  To someone on the outside, it would seem to be a “no-brainer” that freedom is better than slavery, that health is better than sickness, that success is better than failure.  But if all we have known is slavery, sickness, failure, then letting go of them can be terrifying. 

Early in his ministry, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus came upon a man near the city gate in Jerusalem who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  The scripture tells us, “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6)  This used to seem a very strange question to me.  He had been sick for decades, so of course he must want to get well!  But Jesus understood the powerful hold the familiar can have on us, even when the familiar is not what is good for us.  But the good news is, as Remen’s grandfather taught her, “Whenever anyone moves toward freedom, God Himself is there.”

God, you are One who loves to liberate those who are enslaved, physically and spiritually.  Help us not to be afraid of liberty, but to move toward it as much as we have power to do so, trusting you to do the rest.  It may not be easy to leave familiar prisons behind, but the promise that you go with us can give us the strength we need.  Amen.

-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent

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