Out Of My Depths!


Every morning an observant Jew, while reciting morning blessings, states:
Blessed are you Hashem (God’s name),
our God, Ruler of the Universe who frees
the captive.

The normal hurry of morning activity rarely allows me time to stop and contemplate this daily petition, but in writing my quarterly message for Sacred Journey, I now have the luxury to attempt to define what this blessing means to me.

Incarceration can take many forms and thus the blessing may apply to an abundance of situations in which a person experiences limitations. Physical imprisonment is the most obvious form of captivity; but there are many instances where captivity is not defined only by the stonewalls of a prison or the barbed wire of internment camps. Illness, physical or mental, being trapped in a bad job or miserable relationship, living in material and spiritual poverty and all forms of hopelessness represent limitations on our freedom.

In 1648 the English poet Richard Lovelace wrote:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty.

Captivity, the poet seems to suggest, is a mindset. Yet recently I came across this comment by the convicted financier, Bernard Madoff, during an interview with Barbara Walters:

I feel safer here than outside. Days go by. I have people to talk to and no decisions to make . . . . I know that I will die in prison. I lived the last 20 years of my life in fear. Now I have no fear—nothing to think about because I'm no longer in control of my own life.

What is it that sets a person free? Can a person confined to the narrowest of cells experience greater freedom than one who merits to walk the broadest places of our Earth?

Several years ago I was invited to hear and subsequently had the privilege to meet Kerry Cook, who spent twenty years of his life on death row in Texas for a crime which he did not commit. He was violated in prison and brutalized by gross bureaucratic inadequacies and inefficiencies of both the legal and penal systems. Eventually, with the help of the Princeton based Centurion Ministries, he was fully exonerated. In Kerry, there is a soul containing great calm; an apparent absence of anger, rage and regret, an internal peace that can perhaps only occur after experiencing a living hell.

When faced with these circumstances the prayers we recite can truly have greater efficacy; I recall the words of Psalm 130, known in Latin as de Profundis:

Out of my depths I called to you O God;
God hear me; let your ears hear my prayer.

Please enjoy this issue of Sacred Journey and may you experience relief, if not freedom from any confining circumstances you may be experiencing.