* Freedom *
An Advent Reflection by Andi Cumbo-Floyd
Galatians 5:13 – Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.
I’m imagining a December 17 here on a plantation in Virginia in 1853. It has snowed a few inches, and chores are far harder than normal. Walking to feed the cattle in the pasture, brushing out the coats of the master’s horses, even just making the pass from her cabin to the big house are all complicated by slippery paths and inadequate shoes. I am thinking of a woman named Lucy Nicholas, a woman who was enslaved at the place I grew up. A woman who did not live until freedom.
Advent under slavery – that time of deep waiting, anticipating – it was both more heavy and more hopeful than anything I can imagine now in my 21st century life.
The promise of a Messiah was, of course, the promise of freedom after death, the promise of hope. But for people living under the bondage of slavery, I imagine the promise of freedom they hoped was a far more concrete and earthly gift, too. How could it not be? How could you live a season that promises rescue and not hope it will mean you own your own body, your own choices?
I find it hard to imagine how the enslavers moved through the hopeful anticipation of advent into the joyful celebration of Christmas while still holding human beings as property. The psychological gymnastics required for such a practice must have been great . . . and soul-twisting.
So today, in this week before Christmas, when the advent season asks me to sit in anticipation while it seems everything around me is already celebrating, I am mindful of those who survived far greater suffering than I will ever know and who continued to hope as best they could even so.
Their suffering reminds me to be aware of the ways I celebrate even as others bend low under laws and systems and relationships that threaten to break them, to be aware of the ways that people I know are near-breaking because of chronic health struggles and profound grief, because of betrayal and loneliness and dreams unfulfilled.
I am reminded that my freedom is not the truth of everyone’s experience, and I will remember that the call of Christ – especially in this advent – is to carry my freedom forth in love, a love that sits with the wounded, grieves with the weeping, and breaks the shackles of oppression.
Today, I am remembering Lucy. I am thinking of her grave beside her masters’ tombs. I am thinking of how she cared for the masters’ children, took them out to build snowmen and brought them in for hot cocoa she may not have been allowed to drink.
I am thinking of her and her descendants, my friends, people who I love. I am thinking of these beautiful, strong, determined people, and I am remembering my freedom and how it is tied to love. That my freedom is intimately connected to their own, in every way.
Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer and historian who lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband and young son. Her book The Slaves Have Names tells Lucy Nicholas’s story and the story of 21 other enslaved people and her journey to get to know them. You can learn more about her work at Andilit.com