I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you. . .
- Paul, in Ephesians 4:1
I spoke with Emma Lou Thayne this morning. On a short list of writers I consider indispensable to Mormon culture, Emma Lou would be near the top.
And it sounded like she was off to do some more pen work.
"I'm going to the cabin for the summer," she said. Then, almost blissfully, she added, "I'll be totally `incommunicado."'
Her comment made me think of another Christian writer who was totally incommunicado. When John Bunyan wrote "The Pilgrim's Progress" he was completely alone - free from his family, friends, chores and duties.
He was in jail.
One person's solitude, it seems, is another person's solitary confinement.
And freedom - like captivity - is all in your head.
Over the years, I fear Americans have distorted the idea of freedom to a degree. We're such rugged individualists here we often think freedom is about "having options." We think freedom means "freedom of choice," a license to act however we will.
But in the religious world, freedom has a different feel.
"The truth will make you free" doesn't mean truth gives us room to move, gives us a smorgasbord of choices. It means truth liberates us from bondage, frees us from our captor.
Spiritual truth simply shows us a better Master to serve.
From a religious perspective, any soul who thinks he's in control on earth is fooling himself. We're all servants of some sort. And we can either take our orders from heaven or from the world. We can serve God or Mammon.
Freedom means choosing how we will be bound - by cords or by covenants.
Christians and convicts both serve time. The difference is convicts spend time in "servitude," while Christians spend it in "service."
In the end, "religious freedom" is really the peace of mind that comes from being a loyal servant.
I suppose that may be the reason spiritual messengers like John Bunyan, The Apostle Paul, Gandhi and Edith Stein seem even more free when locked up.
In jail, their minds and spirits soar.
I think of Bunyan, burning in prison with the words of "Pilgrim's Progress."
Or Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, glowing like candles in the gloom of the Nazi death camps.
Or Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake, using her captivity to feed her inner fire.
And I think of a painting of Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail by LDS artist Greg Olsen.
It isn't a painting about walls and enclosures.
It's a painting about freedom and light.
In the painting, Joseph sits in his cell, writing down one of the sections of The Doctrine & Covenants. There are pails of bread and water nearby - prison food, but also sacramental food.
Next to him we see the warm gleam of a candle, burning like the human spirit.
Above him, through a window, we see a bank of holy light descending.
And within the figure of Joseph himself, we sense a steady glow, an internal luster.
For Joseph Smith, Liberty Jail was really Liberation Jail.
And in Olsen's painting, Joseph looks like a pilgrim who has stolen away on retreat to fast, pray and write.
He looks like a hermetic monk shut away in his cell.
He looks like someone who has gone off to a mountain cabin - made himself "totally incommunicado" - and there, in the isolation, found the bliss and freedom that comes with being, like Paul, a prisoner of the Lord.