Freedom has a spirit. Like the very Spirit of God in some way it is everywhere and in each person. As Jefferson wrote, “the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time”. Yet also like God’s Spirit, the spirit of freedom is so focused at some times, places and in some hearts that the time, that place, or that single heart becomes a hinge about which history turns.
It sprouted in our land in 1620, in the cabin of a ship anchored off Cape Cod. It was there at Lexington and at Concord Bridge in Massachusetts, and in a hall in Philadelphia. It spoke through Lincoln at Gettysburg. From its root in this land it nourished other hearts who built the soil of harsher climates. It animated Gandhi. It kept Solzhenitsyn working through years of prison, disease, and exile. It struck a young catholic seminarian who saw his Poland brutalized by both Nazi and Communist conquerors, and a British aristocrat who eagerly seized the reins of government even though he could see nothing ahead but “blood, tears, toil, and sweat”.
It moved the heart of an Alabama woman to hold her seat on a city bus. It turned a steadfast electrician in Gdansk and a playwright in Prague into leaders of free peoples. We saw it briefly in Moscow. It was present in the thousands of Tiananmen Square who gathered around a statue made of paper, and most clearly in that one courageous heart who stood his own body in front of a tank.
Today we are honored to see it in some Islamic women of Afghanistan who prepared their bodies for burial and then went outside their homes and waited in line to cast their first vote. We see it also in the brave men and women who fought to give them that chance, and who fight and die this very day in other cities in that same hope. Also on this very day hundreds of thousands of unarmed citizens spend the frigid nights outdoors in Kiev to see that their vote is honored.
Tomorrow, in the land that has grown from that vision expressed on the Mayflower, families and friends will gather to celebrate the many blessings we have been given, both by God and by those who were here before us. As I bow my head at our abundant table, I’ll remember in prayer those who struggle with such courage to give the gift of liberty to themselves, to their children, and to others who are still deprived of it.