If you have never gone to “Lake Louise the Tourist Spot”, and it is feasible, go. It is one of the most sublime places on planet Earth. More than anything you can see online, and much better than the following description, it is awe-inspiring. In summer, its turquoise glacial water nestles between three mountains and invites one to sit and stare at its incredible contrasts. The surrounding green pine trees to the left and right and a snow-covered backdrop of a mountain express more beauty than can be absorbed by the human spirit. On a clear day, you will feel like you have arrived.
Even nearby Moraine Lake – with its rock-climbing possibilities – will take your breath away. The ten mountain peaks that overlook its even more pristine water stand there to tell you that it is a sacred space. It used to be an “off-the-beaten-path” treasure. Now the path is beaten heavily.
Yesterday, it wasn’t the right spot for me. It wasn’t the smoky air of wildfires and the clouded confusion of climate change that made it inaccessible. It wasn’t the fact that I had been stuck in a traffic jam for 30 minutes, with the sunk cost of time and energy that implies. The crowds of people that had already gathered at mid-day made parking near the sights impossible. So we were left with the choice of parking six kilometers away and registering for a shuttle to take us to the sight, which would also be another 2-hour wait. A 2-hour wait with teenagers? To see a sight we had already seen?
This taught me something about what it means to be free. This taught me to go past seeing and feeling, thereby entering into Being.
One choice among many, one clearly dominant “best” pick in the minds of the masses, and I was presented with a choice. There sat my family, annoyed and tired, quietly pleading with their eyes and slouched postures (but not their words) to do something else. And there sat a narrative of what a trip to the mountains “ought” to be like. I may have made the “bucket-list” choice, yet again, and I would have poked a hole in the bucket while doing it.
The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the “mere-est” form of freedom; the only thing free about it is that we can still choose good. To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. Evil choices destroy and erode freedom. We can never choose evil as evil: only as a seeming good. However, when we decide to do something that only seems to be good, we are doing something we do not really want to do. Therefore we are not really free.
Truer spiritual freedom is the inability to make an evil choice. When what you desire is truly good and every choice is the attainment of good and not merely an aspiration to it, then you are free. Every act of your true desire ends in perfect fulfillment. Yesterday at the information centre of Lake Louise was such a choice. Did I have to follow a meta-story of what a trip to the mountains ought to be like? Or was my true desire more contained in the posture and expression of the people I loved more than anything?
Therefore, freedom does not attempt to strike a balance between good and evil choices – an attempt to recover sunk costs and to show the family picture in front of those pristine lakes while waiting impatiently for the passers-by to get out of my “perfect” shot. I had to choose good and experience the joy of what God had given me (my family) and reject a possibility that would bring me self-deception, and grief, and unhappiness (Lake Louise and Moraine Lake). Only the one who has rejected all evil so completely that he is unable to desire it at all is truly free. The fact that I, at the moment of the choice, was still able to desire it revealed to me that I have a ways to go.
God, in whom there is no possibility of evil and sin, is infinitely free. In fact, God is freedom. The other freedom, the so-called freedom of our nature, is a simple capacity in the context of good and evil. It is waiting to be filled by grace, the supernatural love of God. It was that grace that looked at me without words and said, “Please Dad!!! No!”
All goodness, completeness, and joy are found in the joyous will of God. Since true freedom consists in the desire and choice of what is really good, then it can only be found in a submissive union to the will of God. If our will travels with God, it will reach the same end, rest in the same peace, and be filled with the same infinite joy. As Thomas Merton defines freedom: “it means the ability to do the will of God. To be able to resist His will is not to be free. In sin, there is no true freedom.” (Merton, The New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 201)
Surrounding the sin of my potential choice to see Lake Louise and Morraine Lake there are certain goods. I would have still experienced the fresher air, the cool water, and the sublime view. But it is not these pleasures that are evil; they are good and willed by God. Even if one takes these pleasures in a way that is not willed by God, God still wants those pleasures to be experienced. The pleasures are good, but the will toward them can be evil. It is because the direction of that will is evil that seeing these sights and experiencing these pleasures cannot reach the mark that the will intends. It is self-defeating and no joy is attained in any act of sin. By making the choice to go to Moraine Lake, in the faces of my partner and my children, the pleasure would come to an end and I would have had nothing of the joy that would enrich me forever.
The false spontaneity of caprice must be sacrificed, not our true liberty. If we sacrifice our true liberty, we renounce God. If we sacrifice our true liberty we sacrifice the most precious element to our being; we sacrifice our divine image in which we have been created.
So I made another choice. We went to a place to enjoy ourselves together. We went to Johnston Canyon and were overtaken by another experience. It will enrich us forever.