We have now been here at L’Abri for a week and a half and it feels nearly utopian. . .for me anyway. Eric is hard at work on a writing project and feeling lots of pressure to complete a number of projects, and we’ve been finding the balance between both of us getting study time and sharing responsibility for Everett. It seems like Everett loves it here though; there are kids to play with nearly all of the time and he’s down to one (yes one, as in 1) middle of the night nursing session! We’ve also discovered he likes green curry soup, kidney beans, red currants (picked fresh from the bushes all over the property) and black olives with pasta. He wakes up at almost the same time every morning, which is early but at least consistent, and takes regular fairly predictable naps, making the day easier to plan for than it has been for nearly 9 months.
But when I say utopian I suppose what I’m really getting at is the experience of a certain brand of freedom. We had a theme weekend last week, which means that people came from out of town just for the weekend and we had more lectures and discussions than usual just for Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. The theme was “Autonomy to Freedom” and without going into detail about the various points of theology covered (partly because it would take too long and I don’t really feel this is necessarily the place), I was impressed by our discussion of how the search for freedom from one thing often leads to enslavement to another. An example that’s just a little too easy but may help make my point is someone who takes mood-altering drugs to be free from a harsh reality only to find themselves enslaved and dependent upon that substance. Or, perhaps more apropos, a film/book reference one lecture made was to the story Into the Wild where a young man wants to be free from the bond of society and so runs off into the wilderness to be completely on his own, only to find himself at the mercy of a harsh nature and, in fact, longing for the community left behind. I feel sure we could all come up with hundreds of examples.
What, then, is true freedom?
I’m not going to attempt to answer that, other than to say that I believe it has something to do with acknowledging that there is no such thing, and that’s really good. When we’re honest, we realize that structure is necessary. Structure makes it possible to protect certain aspects of our freedom, and attempts to assure that our freedom is not dependent on someone else’s subjugation.
So here I find myself, having come to L’Abri with no particular agenda to “get away” or “be free” from anything–I was truly looking forward to those things which would be added to our lives by being here–and yet I find myself refreshingly free from things I thought I couldn’t live without–tv, Facebook, email, Skype, my RSS reader, Etsy, regular shopping trips (and consequently, a spirit of greed that I was not even fully aware of), and even the burden of trying to cram too much into every spare minute of a day in order to feel productive. The structure of our days, split between study, work and community interaction (over meals and set tea and coffee breaks), provides a framework in which I can commit myself to a specific endeavor for a specific amount of time, and be satisfied and appropriately tired at the end of each day. Furthermore, relying upon others for certain aspects of life–food, mainly, as every meal is planned and prepared by someone else, though I may help–also provides a shocking amount of freedom, and not just from that particular responsibility but from the need to have control over that aspect of my family’s life. And finally, the communal living, being constantly surrounded by others, working and studying and eating and talking together in common areas (and yet maintaining some personal space) has freed up bits of my head and heart to be able to experience relationships that can be so very different from those I may experience in my normal life, i.e. less scary and not quite so weighed down by expectations.
I fully understand that this is not really sustainable, and I also believe this is good. This place can, and has, become a very easy place to hide from the world; embracing the utopia and staying forever sounds very appealing to me (and others)! But it cannot be, and should not be, because we need to return to our “real world” existences that are not so protected and perhaps to not structured as we’d like sometimes and too structured at others. Even the families who live here permanently lead different lives from the students because long-term, they live in the world and must interact with it.
But what we can hope for is that when we get back to our so called normal lives, we carry some of what we value so highly about our lives here into that place–a bit of the structure that frees us up to be ourselves, to fully dedicate ourselves to the tasks at hand, thereby adding value to each moment; the spirit of community that makes dependence a safe, loving aspect of human relationships; a reigning in and sorting out of those things which in and of themselves can be instruments for beauty and goodness but which so easily become poisonous distractions.
Those are my thoughts for the week. Forgive me for not writing more often, even when I do get time I tend to want to spend it in other ways. Thank you for continuing to check in!