I saw the new movie “Invictus” this past weekend~ what a great film. It tells the story of Nelson Mandella’s first months as president of South Africa after being released from prison. According to the movie, the poem “Invictus” was his favorite; it kept his hope alive through all his years of imprisonment and remained his inspiration as he began as president. Morgan Freeman portrays Mandella so beautifully, a man who walked his path with a deep and confident purpose to use his power for good. In the film, his character quotes this poem (Invictus) by William Ernest Henley as scenes of his prison life fade in and out on the screen. Here is the beginning and end of it:
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul…
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.”
It can be overwhelming to believe yourself to be the “master of your fate and captain of your soul.” But I believe there is real freedom in embracing this as true. In brokenness, I imprisoned myself in the lie that my soul wasn’t capable of believing the truth about myself, for myself. I learnt this lie from others, but the walls of that prison had become familiar to me. At some point, I had decided to stay there, deceptively trapped.
In the middle of this self-imprisonment was my unconquerable soul. A seeking, unrelenting, beautiful soul.
I tried closing my eyes and moving forward anyways. Didn’t work. I called out to others wanting them to break free for me; not possible. I tried banging against the walls, chastising myself for being in there at all, willing myself to just believe the truth (already!) and somehow be magically transported to a different place. That didn’t work either.
What ultimately frees me from a lie-prison is not closing my eyes to it or trying to block it out, bust through or ask someone else to get me out. Now I see that I can light a lamp, cast this light on the walls, the ceiling, the floor… face the lies with open eyes. For so long they appeared large and looming; they were too scary to face. But knowing the truth about my soul, the goodness of my heart, changes everything. With new courage, I stop my vigorous efforts and look around. I see. Cracks appear in the structure and more light shines in.My soul IS capable of looking at the lies and rejecting them. And, my soul is the only one that can do this work for myself.
As grateful as I am for other beacons of light in my life, at the core of living whole is this choice that only I can make. The choice is mine and mine alone to grasp my lamp and keep my eyes open, to see how I’ve gotten entangled, to see what is really true and what is not true. Just like with any death, with any shift from the old to the new, no other being can take that step for me. It is this ability to embrace the truth completely on my own in these pivotal inner moments that propels me forward. Wow, there is some kind of joy and freedom in THAT.
How does this poem strike you on your own path of wholeness?