“How blessed are those who have God to help them, their hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them. God keeps faith forever, giving justice to the oppressed, giving food to the hungry, setting free those chained in shackles. The Lord gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are cast down, protects the stranger, provides for the widows and orphans.” – Psalm 146:5-9
On a visit to the Smithsonian Museum, a holy moment came my way. As I stood near a display about slavery in America, I noticed a young African-American father teaching quietly his young son. He was teaching the young boy about the meaning of the rusted iron shackles that rested in the window. I could see the father gesture as to how the shackles clamped about the ankles and wrists. As the father spoke, I could see his son listen so intently, holding onto his hand and then hugging his neck. I thought that for a moment tears were coming to both father and son, but if they, smiles and laughter soon replaced them. And then after those few holy moments of remembrance, they both moved on. But I remained … staring at those rusting iron shackles.
A vital though difficult aspect of maturing as Christian disciples has to do with ‘breaking free of the shackles‘ of the way things once were. It is the Christian understanding of ‘liberty’ … the breaking free of the shackles so that we might fulfill God’s dream for our lives. I do believe that an essential work of God’s grace is the breaking the iron shackles that keep us imprisoned to our former, lesser ways.
Liberty … I have witnessed alcoholics and drug addicts set free from their shackles … I have witnessed both abusers and abused set free from their shackles … I have witnessed racists set free from their shackles … I have witnessed workaholics and obsessive materialists set free from their shackles … I have witnessed the embittered and the wounded set free from their shackles … and now as I walk into my autumn years, I more and more thank the Lord … that he sets free even me from shackles …
Oh, my iron shackles are not of a most obvious. conspicuous kind … but, probably, of a most common kind. As I grow more sensitive to the Lord’s will for spirit of holiness and wholeness, I thank the Lord that one by one the Lord is shattering those subtle shackles on my soul that have limited my true liberty. Oh, for me, the shackles forged probably in my formative years were such things as defensiveness, simmering anger triggered by fear and insecurity, low self-esteem tortured by high self-expectations, … such very human matters such as these. In the contemplative approach to Christian living, the Lord’s grace enters deep within a person’s soul, revealing the shackles, slowly unlocking the shackles, treating the wounds left by the shackles, and transforming those old ways into new, more beautiful and godly ways of being … truly human, divinely graced. It is ongoing and it is often slow-going … but, now and then, I come across some of the old shackles that were on my soul … and I find that they are now rusting away eventually into dust.
A foundational thought in the Benedictine approach to maturing in Christ is this … “We are always being guided by God into a more excellent way and into a more excellent realm, a future where the past is redeemed by our faithfulness in the present.”
My Loved Ones, the way things have always been… do not always have to be. Allow the Lord to unlock the shackles and then, once set free, walk on … leaving the shackles behind, rusting away.
Brother Anthony of the Cross