We have now been in lockdown for 40 days and for some of us it has been like a prison sentence, the jail being our own homes.
A man who knows all about Prison is Paddy. Books have been written about him and he’s pretty open about his story. He spent 17 years in a prison for the criminally insane.
I’ve got to know Paddy better and better over the last week and I have a great love for him. He’s funny, honest, open, wise, prayerful, genuine and humble. Honestly he’s an amazing man and a beautiful soul.
As I walked up Oxford street with Paddy the other day while helping him with his bags I felt so happy. Happy to be seen unashamedly with my brother even if to some he looks like a tramp (arguably so do I at times too).
I asked Paddy what it’s like being out of prison after 17 years on behind bars.
His reply brought a tear to my eye.
“I don’t know, in my head I’m still inside”.
It made me think of my own life and indeed maybe yours too. How many places are we still prisoners of the past?
We have been set free by Jesus but are we really free?
I know for me that the answer is still ‘no’. I’m still not fully free of the prison bars of the past and yet I’m a long way there.
The mind is a tough prison to break out of and the bars of expectations, cultural norms and pressures of society can be tough ones to break through.
Like Paddy, we can be out of prison and yet still imprisoned and this period of lockdown is perhaps the ideal time to reflect and ask ourselves if we are just locked down or if we are also locked up.
Prayer breaks the prison bars and frees us to be ourselves. It frees us in ways that we would never have imagined because most of what we imagined was conditioned from our prison cells.
Prayer goes beyond our imaginations and the norms of society and it frees us to love and to be free.
We no longer care what others think as we know that we are being true to ourselves, to God and to love.
We can walk down the street and hold a man’s hand or a woman’s hand and no longer be ashamed of who we are and of whom we love.
We can be gay or straight or trans or cis or whatever and be free in ourselves to love.
We can go to church and sit up the front and praise our God freely and unashamedly no longer held prisoners of our pasts, our failures or other people’s expectations!
We can laugh, we can cry, we can sing, we can dance freely and joyfully because we are loved and we are forgiven.
As I said, this journey of freedom takes time. Just as the people of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert before finding their freedom in the land of milk and honey, so too do we wander in the deserts of our minds gradually becoming freer and freer with the certain hope of being fully free one day.
Spiritual growth takes time. It also requires a lot of personal prayer, honesty with oneself and humility to say “I was wrong” and to move on.
Recently I’ve found myself challenged in this area as my gay friends meet my not so gay friends.
It’s like two totally different cultures meeting and I’ve felt divided and conflicted as to how I should behave.
To show affection to another guy in front of some of my catholic aquantices would be somewhat like holding a red rag to a bull.
I know how gay intolerant some of them are and so I don’t want to anger them by provoking them.
On the other hand, why do I care so much about what they think? It’s not like they either like me or help me anyway and if I want to show some affection to a gay friend, so what!
And so you see I’ve come to see that like Paddy, I too am somewhat in prison in my mind and many of the bars are straight and are catholic!
Yet bit by bit Jesus is freeing me from this prison of narrow minded Catholicism and releasing me into the freedom of true love and joy of being an open-minded spirit filled catholic.
Some of course will charge at me like the angry bull but it’s worth remembering where the bull ends up at the end.
So friends. Let’s continue to walk in the light of love and walk out of prison and be the free children of God that our heavenly father so desires us to be.
Love to all