Freedom is essential to human nature. It is especially important to the American identity. When push comes to shove, if it is threatened it is vigorously defended even by those that don’t outwardly identify with it as part of their American value. I will discuss here what many authors have called ‘democratic habits of the heart’ in American society. I want to impart how significant freedom is in all aspects of our life especially our spiritual/religious life. Mezirow develops the idea of ‘democratic habits of the heart’ in his book ‘Learning as Transformation’:
There is a reciprocity between democratic theory and transformation theory. Warren (1992, p.8) contends that democracies inherently create opportunities for self-transformation: “Where individuals are more broadly empowered, especially in the institutions that have most impact on their everyday lives (workplace, schools, local governments, etc.), their experiences would have transformative effects: they would become more public spirited, more tolerant, more knowledgeable, more attentive to the interests of others, and more probing of their own interests” (Mezirow, 28).
The qualities that constitute emotional intelligence (see p. 11) are essential conditions of transformative learning. Freedom involves not just the will and insight to change but also the power to act to attain one’s purpose (Mezirow, p. 24).
This is a very powerful and significant statement that integrates democracy, freedom, and spirituality. Looked at philosophically, every human being needs to be in freedom to fulfill their nature. Freedom is at the very heart of what it means to be human. For a person to grow and ‘become’ they must be free to act from their own will and understanding. There is no way to bond with another, or with God, unless a person acts freely from their own affection. Affection is by nature a free act, it is the fire that casts the bond, and it is that which gives form to the human soul! In this regard freedom of will is sacred; it is the very means of salvation; and also, because the consequences of rejecting God are real, it is also the cause of hell. On this point Swedenborg writes:
Man cannot be reformed unless he has freedom, because he is born into evils of every kind, which yet must be removed in order that he may be saved, and they cannot be removed unless he sees them in himself…this cannot be effected unless a man be in good as well as evil; for from good he can see evils, but from evil cannot see goods…No action is ever free accept that which is from the will.
It is man’s freedom upon which the Lord operates and by which he bends him; for all freedom is of the love or its affection. If he does not receive good and truth in freedom it cannot be appropriated to him, or become his own. For that to which he is compelled is not his, but is of him who compels.
If men had not free will in spiritual things, all the inhabitants of the world might within a day be brought to believe in the Lord; but this cannot be done, for the reason that what is not received by man from free will does not remain.
It is remarkable to observe in the Gospels how Jesus operated within the laws of freedom even though He had omnipotent power. He did this because this is the only way to effect change in humanity.
In the process of coming to know God we also come to know our unique bent, our love of the life. And the more we open to our nature, the more we know of God. Our love of our life is also our private path to God, so the more of God we know, the more we have opened our unique nature. The love of the life rules all our feelings, our predilections, interests, and our choices. (Van Dusan, 85).
God is within our desires and guides us by them, but evil is also trying to influence us. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells the disciples that they know he way to heaven. Thomas retorts, “We do not know the way to heaven”. And Jesus tells him that I am the Way the truht and the life. We know the way to heaven because God inplanted within us gifts and skills and uses unique to our nature to be used in life. These compose the intimate desires in our soul, so we do know them and they lead us to initmacy with God, which means they lead to fulfilment in this life and to practice while acknowledgeing the good comes from God prepares our soul for heaven.
Practicing the tenents of Democracy that we all value is practicing Christian values, such as honestly, fair mindedness, respect for others, providing oportunitites, education and many others. Practising these skills develops spiritual, intellectual and emotional intelligence, which again prepares us for heaven.
As a chaplain in a hospital one of the principles we learned was to stay close-in to our feelings and our body. This means to pay attention to our body and the anxieties that are arising as we enter a crisis siuation. If we pay close attention to these feelings there is a great deal of information that wants to be heard and known, but all too often we run before we look into the ‘trees’ of our anxiety. Anxiety is like white noise, it can be confusing, overwhelming and familiar at the same time, but when we stay with it and look into it we find it is full of distinct feelings and causes, and deep rooted hues. As a chaplain one is often dealing with big issues and crises of life, so the practice of discerning between my anxiety and that in the room is necessary to serving well. Early on I found myslef shacking in my boots when I was asked to visit a woman who has just learned she was diagnosed with termifnal cancer. Right then I developed the practice of praying to the Holy spirit to proceed into the situaion. I found this gave me a certain composure to deal with the situation. It opened something in me to be able to feel into the situation so I could percieve the persons needs in some measure. By discerning my own anxiety, I have more space to see another well. Everyone wants to feel safe and seen ans when we do we can open up.