I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. Harriet Tubman
For many of us, last weekend was about responding to the presidential inauguration. Whether celebrating a new president or expressing different values and hopes, it was a busy time in Washington. My hope was for a non-busy quiet mind, so my husband and I went to the Eastern Shore.
We believed it was important, though, to honor the people and the foundational principles of a country that is by the people, for the people. For us, that was the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Maryland. In a small storefront, we found remarkable and inspiring words and images, helped by volunteers fervently sharing the story of Tubman and other conductors of the Underground Railroad. If you are in the area, do visit.
While there are many commendable Tubman quotes, the one at the top of this post sticks with me. It certainly tells us something about slavery that I previously had not considered. By no means wanting to diminish African American history, however, I’ve been wondering if there might be a message there for us today. Are there imperatives in our lives with such a firm grip, such powerful control, that we don’t recognize as enslaving? Do they blind us to the life God offers us?
It’s a good question for everyone, but maybe, especially, in the personal relationships, church dynamics and civic life of we Washingtonians. We know about being slaves to addictions, once we acknowledge them – alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food – but what about the more “acceptable” enslavements? What about control, image, power, anger, approval? What about winning?
My husband once called me a pathological caregiver. I’ve tried to heed that affectionate (I think) reminder in my professional and personal life. In my years of hospice work, I saw clinicians unable to step back from their patients’ often crushing dependence and trust; they became slaves to their caring, forgetting that the job of Savior was already taken. Some burned out, became unwell, and had to leave a job they loved. It is seductive, to be so needed.
There are many ways to be enslaved. But each Sunday, at Eucharist, we can go to the altar carrying that which holds us in bondage and give it over to the God who sets us free through the gift of His Son. We must open our hands to accept the bread and wine. We must open our hearts to be freed. And in this freedom, we can live a new life of boundless possibilities.
Freedom from enslavement requires that we know what binds us, and then believe in and act on God’s promise. That’s what Harriet Tubman knew. May we all be so wise.