Fire of Commitment, part 1


With Memorial Day recently behind us and June, the most popular month for weddings, now here, it's a good time to think about the meaning of committing – as a soldier commits to face fears, to be willing to kill and die for a cause, and as a couple commits their lives to each other.

Commit is from “com” meaning “with, together.” "Mitt" is a slang word for "hand," but it turns out that has nothing to do with the "mit" in "com-mit." Which is kinda too bad. Bringing hands together would be a nice image for commit – but, alas, that’s a false etymology. The true etymology, however, is even better. It’s from the mittere, meaning “to release, let go, send, throw.”

Commitment releases. That’s the paradox, isn’t it? Our commitments set us free. We arrive at liberation by accepting the constraints of discipline, by surrendering. By letting go and giving up ourselves to a person our cause, we become free.

It’s important to be able to do what you want – sometimes. But the tyranny of your own wants can be its own kind of oppression. And so we commit: to a cause, to an ideal, to a person, to a job, to an organization, to a marriage. And in that commitment we are given purpose and direction. We are liberated from the tyranny of our own wants. We are released, let go, sent – thrown – into the service of something higher than our individual wants and needs.

There is an element of choice – a crucial element of choice. We choose what to commit to. That choice part is vital, and, in a world full of coercions and attempted coercions, the choice part must be jealously guarded.

The important aspect of choice is highlighted by another etymology. As I was preparing the June issue of “On the Journey”, which is on the theme, “Freedom” (HERE), I was fascinated to discover that the roots of the words “freedom” and “friend” are connected. The Proto-Indo-European root priy-a meant “dear, beloved,” and that became the Proto-Germanic frija, which meant both “beloved” and “not in bondage” – thus combining meanings of friend and freedom. The notion of a friend, a loyalty and love that we chose, that we weren’t forced or coerced into, was the paradigm from which our concept of freedom developed.

But let us also recognize that the free choice part is only a part. We make the commitments we make without knowing all that that entails. You don’t know all the details of what a job, or a friendship, or a political organization, or a marriage, or a faith community will ask of you. Commitment means standing ready to do what is asked while having only a vague and fuzzy idea of what will be asked. It’s sounds good at the time, but you don’t know what you’re really getting into. And that’s what makes it so great.

That’s why your commitments make you more than you were. A commitment turns out to require actions, sacrifice of energy, time, and resources, that were not foreseen and thus couldn't have been chosen, and these unforeseen parts add to your life. Commitment brings to your life what you didn’t know you needed.

From our freedom come our commitments. And equally, from our commitments come our freedom. Our commitments release us, throw us – fling us – willy-nilly into a purpose and meaning so much more than our own small minds, our own small wants and needs, could ever have concocted on their own.

How does that happen? By what magic alchemy do we come to be able to do this – effect our liberation through our commitments? The minister who married LoraKim and me, who presided over, solemnized, and made official and real, our commitment to each other, was the Rev. Mary Katherine Morn. Rev. Morn has had something to say about how the fire of commitment works, for it was she who wrote the words to hymn of that title.

"The Fire of Commitment"

From the light of days remembered burns a beacon bright and clear;
Guiding hands and hearts and spirits into faith set free from fear.

Chorus: When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze;
when our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way;
when we live with deep assurance of the faith that burns within;
then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.

From the stories of our living rings a song both brave and free;
Calling pilgrims still to witness to the life of liberty;


From the dreams of youthful vision comes a new, prophetic voice;
Which demands a deeper justice built by our courageous choice.


* * *
This is part 1 of 2 of "The Fire of Commitment"
See also
Part 2: Mind and Soul Ablaze
See also Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern's reflection on this hymn.

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