Prisons of one sort or another

I see no evidence of luxurious living quarters in prisons. I see no evidence of any ‘liberty hall’ atmosphere. I saw a place where men live every day according to a strict timetable, freedom removed, locked up for more than 11 hours a day. Small cells, barely enough room to swing a cat, each with its own loo, and some with a very basic shower. I see facilities for productive work, sport, and some leisure activities. I see the work that the prison chaplains do. I chat to a few prisoners. I saw one young man from overseas with neurological disease, dying in prison because rules don’t allow him to be released to die at home. Cardinal Hume said he rather liked rogues: ‘you never meet a conceited rogue’, and I heard at first hand what a relief it was for one man to let down his pretence, to ‘come clean’ and to accept and be accepted and recognised for what he was. I became aware of the energy we waste trying to put on a show, to pretend to be what we are not. The energy we use and the trouble we go to to hide behind spiritual fig-leaves. We hide from ourselves and from each other, and thereby in the search for what we think is liberty we become enslaved to pretence. Liberty is not freedom to, it is freedom from. Face-to-face honesty is what strikes me forcibly about Jesus in the Gospels. Up front, challenging, sometimes taken as offensive. If people are offended by our straightforwardness, we might remember that it is they who choose to be offended. Heart speaking to heart was the theme of the Holy Father’s recent UK visit. That is the only real form of communication. In my theology, when heart speaks to heart, or face without spiritual cosmetics speaks to face without spiritual cosmetics, we enter the realm of the Divine.

Just think how much we might achieve if instead of using energy to manufacture masks, we use it to bring healing and delight to the world. Our last mask is shed as we emerge from the chrysalis of old habits, obsessions, the need for praise, and the need to be noticed, into the fully adult form, known in biology as the imago. Imago Dei, the image of God in whose image we are made. In Latin, the plural of imago is imagines. Imagine. Envisage. The Divine visage. The face that shines with purpose. He who sets his face to do what he must do, no matter what the cost. Leaving behind. Growing up. Renunciation. Relaxing from pretence into reality. Relief. Liberation. Homecoming.

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