If Advent is a time of preparation and a paring away of excess to ready ourselves for the incarnation then one of the freedoms offered in Advent is a chance to let go of the illusions that surround our perception and idea about God. Thomas Merton understood this when he wrote of the danger of seeing God as an ‘object’ alongside all the other ‘beings’. This makes God merely another being or object that can be demonstrated and discovered. Instead he understood God as the Absolute: beyond and within and the source and the ground of everything including all existing beings.
If God is the hidden ground of love from which everything comes and through which everything is sustained then God is also and only God is the source of all freedom.
Merton was very much urging his readers to look beyond in their search for freedom; to go beyond the accepted limits into something which is infinite and limitless. He wrote about the freedom to be subject to no-thing, and ‘therefore to live in All, through All, for All, by Him Who is All.’ Merton delineates this encompassing reality by his use of the capital letters. He saw this as about living in the spirit of Christ and where the Spirit of Truth blows where it wills, ‘The Truth shall make you free.’
This is the freedom that comes with the recognition that we are made in the image of God and the awakening to the true self by as Merton puts it so beautifully : ‘the promptings of a Superior Freedom’.
The further freedom that comes with this is about the interconnectedness of all beings and of all of creation and so loving my neighbour is demanded by an inner truth whereby we all find our inner identity in God. The true freedom is an experience and not something that we can learn about or gain through following the rules. It is spontaneous, Merton calls it a freedom of spontaneity, and here there are connections with what Donald Winnicott called the spontaneous gesture. This is the freedom to be true to oneself without self-consciousness or artifice.
When Merton writes that perfect spiritual freedom is a total inability to make any evil choice, I fear that Carl Jung would ask where the shadow is. Perhaps Merton sees the shadow then as sufficiently integrated to mean that there is enough insight to make a choice in terms of truth and in and through Christ.