Freedom: On the Edge of the Inside

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When I was in the hospital I signed up for a weekly email summary of daily devotionals from Richard Rohr. (I’ve already written about how I gobbled up Falling Upward by him while in the hospital and at home during my recovery.) I enjoy many of them, but this one stuck out enough that I feel moved to write more about it.

In it he discusses Inner and Outer Freedom, and uses the phrase “on the edge of the inside.”

Photo by Min An from Pexels

…On the edge of the inside. I like it. It’s got a certain ring, doesn’t it? If someone said Warren Buffett described himself that way, everyone would say, “Of course! Such a folksy genius!”

However, Rohr’s examples are the inverse of Warren Buffett. He uses St. Francis and St. Clare– both incredibly influential spiritual figures that eschewed wealth every step of their religious lives.

“By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) but doing it from a new and creative stance (“on the edge”) where we cannot be coopted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power.”

Richard Rohr

I’ve heard Rohr use these figures before as examples in various audio recordings, urging people to away from the hierarchy. Don’t be a part of it, and don’t become it. To paraphrase him, “St. Francis did not set up shop in the center of Assisi and try to change everything. He picked a site on the fringes of the town, repaired a church there, and went on to change the course of spiritual history.”

(I’ve written earlier about St. Francis and how instead of begging for alms, he begged the people of Assisi for building materials to repair this same church.)

St. Clare had a similar background to St. Francis, from a well to-do family with means, but abandoned everything and joined St. Francis after hearing him preach. She went on to lead the women of St. Francis’s church (San Damiano), the group becoming known as “Poor Ladies of San Damiano.” St. Francis established them as the Second Order of Franciscans, also known as the Poor Clares. 

St. Clare had numerous opportunities to latch on to wealth, even late into her spiritual life.  A pope even tried use his spiritual power and authority to exempt her from her vow of poverty. She would have none of it. Even with the concept of “look how much good you could do if you only let yourself have this money”, she refused. Can you imagine the strength and fortitude required to hold that line? For the entirety of your new life?

I think we see something like this happening around us as different generations try to pursue the concept of freedom. 

“When we try to find personal and individual freedom while remaining inside structural boxes and a system of consumption, we are often unable or unwilling to critique those very structures. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say, or even what we can or cannot think. We cannot remove the plank we are standing on. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are almost always considered “too big to fail” and are often beyond any honest critique. And thus corruption grows.”

Richard Rohr

There is an energy in these younger generations. We are moving away from the template of working a career of 30+ years for 1 company, for numerous reasons. Younger workers, now even knowledge workers, find themselves not only transitioning from company to company, but also transitioning careers. I think there is a certain level of courage that comes with the choice of pursuing the possible known over a given known. You can stay within a rigid system, but what if it ruins your life? “What gain, then, is it for anyone to win the whole world and forfeit his life?”

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