Francis of Assisi got his first taste of freedom in a prison cell. True freedom lives, if it lives at all, inside of us.
As a kid growing up in smog-strangled Los Angeles I heard a radio ditty about a magical island “26 miles across the sea.” But when we went to the shore I could never see it. So I assumed it was a myth. Then one breezy day at the beach, it suddenly appeared. I was astounded because it wasn’t just visible, it was near, really near! In fact, ten years later I met the girl who would become my high school sweetheart on a day trip to Catalina, “the island of romance.”
So why hadn’t I been able to see it till then? In a word, pollution.
There’s a worse kind of pollution. It’s the kind that invades our souls, the kind the Apostle Paul was referring to when he said that from this world we can only see a vague reflection of reality, of God, as if in “a darkened mirror, an enigma.” (1 Corinthians 12:11). But there is a way to blow the smog from our hearts and minds. Jesus said, “Blessed (happy, fulfilled) are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
“Purity.” The word evokes images of extreme asceticism, of living on dried bread crusts (who gets to eat the rest of the bread?) and of flagellating oneself with a leather scourge every time one has an impure thought. But real purity isn’t about limitations, it’s about freedom. Dictionary.com defines purity as “freedom from anything that corrupts or pollutes.” It’s about blowing the smog away. Easy to say, hard to do.
Jesus wasn’t some pop guru floating foamy platitudes. He told us how: “When you abide in my word (literally live there—make it the basis of your life), then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
But how do we do that? How do we “abide” in his word? There are hundreds of references in the Bible to the power of God’s word to blow away the pollution of a lie-choked world. But the majority of these aren’t about reading his word, they’re about memorizing it, about meditating upon it and praying it. Only a handful of copies of the sacred texts existed in the ancient world. Even in Jesus’ time, those who wanted to read God’s word had to reserve time to sit with the Law and the Prophets in a local synagogue. So how did they use that time? They used it to memorize as many precious words as they could! When Jesus and the Apostles quote the Old Testament, they’re doing it from memory. Most people wouldn’t own a copy of the Bible for another 1,600 years!
Nowadays we can own as many copies as we like. Or simply read it online.
But Jesus wasn’t talking about merely reading or studying his word, he was talking about burning it into our souls. King David got it. In Psalm 119:10-13 he says, “I have hidden your word in my heart (committed it to memory) so that I might not sin against you…and with my lips I will declare (meditate upon and recite by heart) all the words of your mouth.”
Drugs kill. Racism kills. Porn kills. Insert-item-of-choice kills. There have been many such mottos. But the killer behind the killers is sin. Sin is soul-pollution, the smog that obscures our vision of truth and of God.
Only God’s word hidden in our hearts is powerful enough to free his living word, his Spirit, to blow away the pollution of sin (the word Spirit literally means “wind” or “breath” in Hebrew and Greek), to allow us to see–through purified air–that God has been near, really near, to us all along.
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” ~John 8:36
More on the subject: How Memorization Revolutionized My Spiritual Life