by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

It’s Independence Day! On “The Fourth of July,” Americans celebrate their Declaration of Independence adopted on July 4, 1776. There will be fireworks, parades, family gatherings and barbecues. There will be baseball games, concerts and patriotic displays from flag flying to everything red, white and blue on streamers, balloons and clothing. Whatever our differences in political opinion, today we join as Americans to celebrate our freedom and to partake in the same events and activities.

In thinking about our Independence Day, I’ve been pondering a statement made by the early 20th century American novelist and poet William Faulkner: “We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.”

The idea of “practicing” freedom, rather than just “celebrating” it, has seemed a rather distant and difficult concept for me lately. My life has felt increasingly enslaved by circumstances, fears and even my own mortality. My longing and great desire for freedom is turning me again to the sourcebook of all healing — the Bible.

The more I study Jesus’ teachings, the more I understand that independence from all forms of oppression — mental, emotional, physical — is found in God’s infinite power and love. God made us free, and this heritage of freedom endows us with the divine power to assert our freedom and dominion.

Jesus showed us how to practice freedom. He disregarded so-called laws of mortality by healing — proving sin, sickness and death powerless when confronted by the might of divine power and truth. He assured us that we, too, could practice our God-given freedom, and he also told us how.

He said, ” … know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It seems my practice of freedom begins by knowing the truth — the truth that God is the only power and creator, the truth that God is good, the truth of my spiritual identity as God’s daughter, the truth that evil is not a power and is not and would never be created by a God who is Love.

I’m discovering that when I depend on knowledge that comes from observing and analyzing mortal conditions, I often reach conclusions that bind me to human frailties. I guess this should be no surprise, since a mortal view can’t see beyond its own limitations and finiteness.

I’m learning that to practice the spiritual freedom that liberates from whatever would shackle me requires maintaining a spiritual view in spite of what the material senses report. It also requires an affirmation of the divine and eternal truth rather than what human knowledge asserts or predicts. I’ve found encouragement in Paul’s promise, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

Indeed, freedom is a divine right. But like any right, it needs to be practiced, put into action and, at times, defended. Sometimes I must fight for my right to freedom.

I don’t have to surrender and helplessly submit to emotional and physical complaints. I don’t have to give up my right to freedom. Where there is freedom, there is peace — peace in mind, body, spirit. And peace is worth fighting for.

I’m learning the reverse is also true — where there is peace, there is freedom. For me, this is never illustrated as clearly as when Jesus calmed a storm at sea with that powerful assertion, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39). It seems to me that he affirmed peace to be a law of God that governs the universe and humankind. And this declaration of peace provided Jesus and his disciples freedom from the storm, stilled the wind and waves and produced “a great calm.”

Practicing freedom requires daily (sometimes hourly) acknowledgment of this God-given peace. When my life seems tossed by one storm after another and I long for calm, I’m finding I can affirm the presence of God’s peace and feel the independence — the freedom — that God’s peace brings to every situation or challenge. And so can we all.

Practice your God-given and God-promised rights of peace and freedom, and may every day be your independence day!