Whenever I hear Joni Mitchell’s song “Free Man in Paris,” I think of a story that was shared with me more than a decade ago. As the story goes, there was once a slave who was promoted to the position of valet. He served his master in the United States faithfully and would travel with him on business trips abroad. Because he was a slave, he didn’t sleep in the hotels where his master stayed, but remained outside or in quarters provided for servants.
On a particularly cold night during a trip to Paris, the man, bundled up as warmly as he could, huddled in the alleyway next to the hotel where his master was staying.
Soon the doorman wandered over and asked him what he was doing. The man explained that he was a slave and that his master was a guest in the hotel. He went on to say that he would wait there until his master needed him the next day.
The doorman looked at him and said, “Sir, this is Paris. Slavery is illegal here. You are free.” The slave, waking up to the reality of his freedom, walked away. He never went back. He accepted his freedom.
You see, at that point slavery was still legal in the US. But in France, slavery had been abolished. Since he was no longer in a place where laws of slave ownership would be enforced, he was – quite literally – a free man in Paris.
While few of us will ever endure the extreme of human slavery, how often do we walk around thinking that we are unavoidably enslaved, bound to or by something such as declining health, poor economic prospects, or socially unjust circumstances? Yet the Bible, which has been an invaluable friend to me, explains that “we live, and move, and have our being” in God (Acts 17:28).
This speaks to a totally different way of thinking about our identity – not citizens of a land where enslavement to relentless masters is enforced or enforceable, but citizens of the kingdom of God, in which we are safe because God, good, is the Supreme Ruler. We do not live under the tyranny of “laws” of health predictions, or inevitable inharmony. We are free. As we’re willing to accept this true, spiritual identity, we realize that we can walk away from illness or whatever else would hold us captive without looking back: We can be healed.
At one point in my life, the normal, everyday activity of moving around became very difficult for me. I was mentally slammed with all the reasons why this was not only reasonable, but expected, at my age. Then, one Saturday, as I started a cleaning project, I turned on a favorite playlist on my iPod. The first song that came up was “Free Man in Paris.” I immediately thought of the story shared above. At the same moment, I bent down to clean under a table and felt an all-too-familiar pain.
But this time I didn’t just “huddle in the cold,” resigning myself to the discomfort as I continued cleaning. I decided to acknowledge that my real identity is not mortal. That we do not live in a place where decay and decline are enforced, or are even real laws at all, because God made His creation entirely good. We are not trapped in bodies that enslave us. We are free to express God; we reside in the kingdom of God.
In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, assures us: “The enslavement of man is not legitimate. It will cease when man enters into his heritage of freedom, his God-given dominion over the material senses. Mortals will some day assert their freedom in the name of Almighty God” (p. 228). Each of us is subject to one sovereign, one lawgiver: divine Love. This Love is limitless and supreme.
Every step, every bend, every swipe of the dust cloth as I affirmed these ideas was a step away from the feeling that I was waiting for a false master to tell me where I could go, what I could feel, and how I could experience my life. The pain faded away, and I was able to move freely.
It’s a radical idea that divine Love’s law of liberty is the most powerful basis for realizing and experiencing our inherent freedom, but Love is omnipotent, all-powerful. There is no opposition to its supreme statutes of freedom and liberty. We each forever have our “citizenship” in infinite Love.