An Exercise of Will: What Would you do With Your Freedom if it Weren't a Given?
Aksamit, Nichole. "An Exercise of Will: What Would you do With Your Freedom if it Weren't a Given?" Forum, 14 November 1999, sec. E1.
The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony
share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind
a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.
Spring Prairie Colony, Minn.
It's a beautiful August morning, and we are sitting on a trailer
being pulled behind a tractor headed for a field of cucumbers.
The air is cool but the sun is warm and the women are cheerful
- kerchiefed heads bowed, buckets in hand, legs swinging out to
brush the tall grass.
It is one of those rare moments when everything seems perfect,
and I raise my camera in an attempt to preserve it.
The moment evaporates as the young Hutterite woman next to me speaks.
"If I had my free will," she confides, with a nod toward
my camera, "I'd take pictures of nature all day long."
If I had my free will.
Her words ricochet in my head.
For months, I have been reading about how Hutterites request baptism
as adults and surrender free will to serve God and the community
For the last 48 hours, I've presumed to know what it's like to
be in Hutterite shoes just because I borrowed a pair of rubber boots
and did a little garden work.
And only now, on a trailer headed for a cucumber field northwest
of Hawley, do I begin to understand the sacrifice Hutterites make.
Here, there is no free will. Here, faith goes far beyond lipservice.
At night in the solitude of my stark Hutterite room, the phrase
If I had my free will.
I think about the opposite. If I didn't have my free will, how
would I finish that sentence?
Would I crave the freedom to cut my hair short, open a bank account,
wear pants? Would I want to earn my driver's license, listen to
the radio, splurge at Dayton's now and again?
To those of us who take such freedoms for granted, a life without
them is hard to fathom. But for the Hutterites, who use free will
only in surrender, personal liberties must seem like so much butter
and jam without the bread. For them, free will can never measure
up to God's will.
I drift to sleep thinking about how my life is the sum total of
a million small decisions, while the Hutterite life is the result
of a single binding choice few people outside the colonies dare
With one decision, Hutterites have a ready response to all the
big questions: Who am I, what's my purpose, how should I live? The
answer is simply, "Who, what and as god wills."
Had I, like my Hutterite friend, decided to leave all other decision
to God, I doubt I would deem anything more important.
The next afternoon, the sun warms our aching backs as we bend over
rows of strawberry plants, pulling weeds.
For a moment, I stand and stretch and watch the young women around
me. They chat happily about an upcoming wedding, pluck the weeds
from the vines and shoo the little boys who are supposed to be helping.
I wipe my brow and look up at the fields, the clouds, the bright
blue sky beyond the chokecherry trees.
It is another perfect moment, and I am glad to be part of it. I
do not reach for my camera.
Whatever led me - God's will or my own - I feel lucky to have wound
(Aksamit spent five days among the Hutterites at Spring Prairie
Colony near Hawley, Minn., in August.)
Reprinted with permission of The Forum