Spiritual Care for the Liberated

We, Too, Need a Verse to Chant

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite, http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com, “Progressive Christian Reflections.”

“It would be an error to think that a liberated prisoner was not in need of spiritual care anymore.” –Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This observation comes toward the end of Frankl’s autobiographical and psychological account of his time as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. Having described repeated traumatic events in the life of fellow prisoners, he turns to the trauma of suddenly being free: the feelings of unreality, bitterness, disappointment (when, for example, the person the prisoner most longed to see was no longer) and disillusionment (when others pleaded ignorance or relativized the prisoner’s suffering).

Frankl writes that the liberated prisoner needed to re-learn how to feel pleasure. On the first day of “freedom” the inmates went outside the camp gates and witnessed “meadows full of flowers” but later confessed to one another, “Tell me, were you pleased today?” “Truthfully, no!”

But a few days later, passing the same flowering meadows, hearing larks singing and seeing them rise to the skies, with nothing but earth and sky around him, he found himself kneeling and saying over and over again, “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and He answered me in the freedom of space.” He didn’t know how long he knelt, repeating these words, beginning to feel human again. But it is in that context that he writes, “It would be an error to think that a liberated prisoner was not in need of spiritual care anymore.”

The insight struck me as a hammer brought down full strength on an anvil. Without pretending to compare Frankl’s suffering to that of the rest of us, it is also true that those liberated from closets or fundamentalism or even church are still greatly in need of spiritual care. We too need a verse to chant, to sing, to pray, so that we may feel pleasure and awe as we come to our senses as “the human being fully alive” that is God’s glory.

And I would say we need one thing more.

The first sermon in which I included gay people by name among “the least of these” for whom Jesus cared, my text was the story from Acts of Paul and Silas in prison. An earthquake frees them, and the jail keeper prepares to take his own life, thinking they have escaped. But Paul shouts out, “Do not be afraid, for we are all here.” That was my sermon title, and I explained that despite their liberation, they take time to convert the jail keeper, recognizing he too is imprisoned. I’d like to think that, almost to the day that I gave that sermon 40 years ago, I still have some of that youthful idealism.

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