The Path of Freedom

The Path of Freedom

 

The behaviour of the mind presents an intriguing study, and in the past number of years the science of psychology has greatly enriched our understanding of the mind. Books on the mind and its workings are so numerous and popular that practically everyone these days is an amateur psychologist. One of the many things that has been learned about the mind is that it has a way of protecting itself from severe injury. We are not talking about external head injuries and how the skull protects the brain but rather the protection of the mind. That is, those things which might tend to be injurious to the conscious mind are repressed to the level of the subconscious to protect the personality.

 

Jesus suggests, in the third chapter of John, that the soul does something of the same thing. It shelters itself from injury by assuming an outward appearance of righteousness while ignoring the rugged discipline of self-criticism. ‘Light has come into the world,’ Jesus tells us, ‘and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.’ Jesus seems to be saying that we are afraid to look within our lives – to allow the truth of the gospel to examine carefully our thoughts, our motives, our behaviour.

 

After attending church one Sunday, Longfellow went home and wrote these words in his diary: ‘John Ware, of Cambridge, preached a good sermon.’ Underneath this he added these unusual words: ‘I applied it to myself.’

 

How unlike most of us! It is easy to think of a dozen persons who should have been touched by last Sunday’s sermon, but we exclude ourselves from that group. We prefer to deceive ourselves into believing that we are ‘pretty good people’ by repressing the idea that we are sinners. We cleverly place a veneer of shallow morality and superficial religious behaviour around our lives, and try to convince ourselves that this is all we need.

 

Our world is filled with people who have made a complete mess of life by refusing to look within and understand their deep spiritual needs. Closing their eyes to its inner yearning, they discover sooner or later that life is empty and they have missed that which makes life abundant.

 

In the 1930’s the newspapers carried the story of Ralph Barton, the feature cartoonist and caricaturist for ‘The New Yorker’. Ralph Barton had just committed suicide, leaving behind a letter with the request that it be published. It said in part: ‘I have had few real difficulties. I have had, on the contrary, an exceptionally glamorous life, as life goes, and I have had more than my share of affection and appreciation. The most charming, intelligent, and important people that I have known have liked me, and the list of my enemies is very flattering to me… I have run from wife to wife, house to house, and from country to country in a ridiculous effort to escape from myself… no one thing is responsible for this [suicide] and no person except myself… I did it because I am fed up with inventing devices for getting through twenty-four hours a day.’

 

Probably our lives are not as empty as Ralph Barton’s had become, but it is a relatively easy thing to hide our inner restlessness behind a façade of lightheartedness and seeming contentedness. When have you last taken a long and searching look at yourself? Perhaps you won’t like what you see, but to hide from the truth only thickens the wall of darkness which may surround your soul.

 

It is reported that, when Queen Elizabeth 1 grew old and unattractive, an unfortunate master of the mind incurred disgrace by a too faithful likeness of her cast on the shilling. The die was broken and only one mutilated specimen is now known to be in existence. The Queen’s maids of honour took the hint and were thenceforth careful that no fragment of a looking glass remained in the palace. In fact, ‘The Quarterly Review’ (a magazine of the times) says that the Queen “… had not the heart to look herself in the face for the last twenty years of her life.’

 

Do we not sometimes attempt to protect ourselves from the fact of how God sees us by refusing even to look at the condition of our spiritual life? admittedly, self-deception is considerably less painful than self-criticism, but it is extremely dangerous to the soul.

 

If what Christ said be true, “…light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” then what can we do to over come darkness and find the glorious light that illumines the soul?

 

To return for a moment to the matter of the behaviour of the mind, psychologists tell us that a person suffering from a psychosis caused by mental repressions must be willing to probe deeply into the recesses of the mind to find the cause of the difficulty and thus bring it into the open. Only as these problems are frankly faced and understood is there a foundation open which recovery can build upon.

 

This same process is necessary for the normal development and growth of our spiritual life. if we have sheltered our heart from the truth, if we have allowed darkness to prevail, then we must be honest enough to face this fact. We must want the light of Christ enough to find it at any cost. Jesus used the strong terms of hunger and thirst after righteousness. Our desire for inner purity as offered through Christ must be just that urgent.

 

Gautama Buddha was known as a man who sought the way of life. one day a stranger came to him and said, ‘Buddha, I have always envied you. I wish I could be a man of faith.’

 

‘Then come with me,’ said Buddha.

 

He led the man to a nearby river and waded out with him waist deep. Buddha then grabbed the man by the throat and held his head under the water. Struggling frantically, the man finally freed himself and came up coughing and gasping for air.

 

Quickly Buddha asked the man: ‘When your head was under the water, what did you desire most?’

 

‘To breathe’, came the reply.

 

‘When you want faith and truth as badly as you want to breathe a moment ago,’ said Gautama Buddha, ‘then you will find it.’

 

Just as strong must be our desire to search within our heart to understand our spiritual needs and to allow the light of Christ to remove the veneer of morality and lead us into his path of righteousness. When we truly want the spirit of Christ to this extent, we will no longer attempt to hide form the truth. We will, instead, search until we have found it.

 

As the Psalmist prayed of old, so must we pray: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if they be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting..’