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Stanwick Group of Churches

July 2021

Back in frozen February the PM, Boris Johnson, set out his road map out of lockdown and said, ‘We’re travelling on a one-way road to freedom’. As I write, we are waiting to find out if step four can go ahead as planned, and only time will tell whether we really are on a one-way road. This may ultimately depend on our preparedness to share vaccines across the world.

The notion of freedom is itself a fascinating concept and the question ‘What is freedom?’ is one that humans have grappled with for centuries, if not millennia.

Are we simply free because of the removal of physical boundaries and human constraints? Have we really experienced a loss of freedom during lockdown? What about the extra free time some have experienced during lockdown? And, lockdown or no lockdown, we have more freedom of choice than at any other time in history; whatever your taste in food, clothing, or entertainment, if you are wealthy enough, it is instantly available at the tap of a button on your smartphone.

On Sunday evening I enjoyed watching the first in Jimmy McGovern’s new prison drama series, ‘Time’, which is, to quote the BBC website, ‘a story of guilt and forgiveness, punishment and penitence and the impact that prison has on all those who pass through it.’ Mark, a teacher serving a four year sentence after killing a man by dangerous driving, has his first encounter with the prison chaplaincy after his cell mate, Bernard, dies by suicide. The Roman Catholic chaplain, Sr Marie-Louise, invites Mark to a group where the prisoners are encouraged to talk about their experiences. I had been part of such a group many years ago when spending a week on placement with the chaplaincy team at Belmarsh Prison, in SE London. I remember one young man, who had recently become a Christian, speaking of the new freedom he had begun to experience inside himself - his long sentence no longer seemed so daunting.

Soon after his release from prison Nelson Mandella commented: ‘as I walked out of the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind I’d still be in prison.’ While we can’t necessarily pin freedom down to one definition, we can begin to develop a wider, more holistic, understanding of freedom as being not just something external that happens to us, but something that emanates from within us and that is part of a way of life. This kind of inner freedom has the capacity to transform even the most destructive and life-constraining situations that we might find ourselves in.

In John’s gospel Jesus said, ‘you are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ (8 v 31-32). Similarly, St Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3 v 17: ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ If we have encountered something life-transforming – God’s Word, God’s Spirit, God’s love, peace, forgiveness, healing and grace -  and we allow this to change us from within, then no physical barriers or laws or restrictions can imprison us. Here is a new freedom which, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, is a spring of water bubbling up uncontrollably, refreshing everything it comes into contact with.

And so whatever you chose to do during this summer of relative freedom from the Covid restrictions which have constrained us, I hope and pray that you will also be refreshed by a freedom bubbling up from deep within.

God bless,

Camilla


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