Over the course of the last week, I have visited and spent time in two distinct and very different cells. Today, together with my latest group of Westcott students, we visited HMP Manchester (or Strangeways prison as it was formerly known). As a part of the tour we were locked up in a tiny empty cell designed in the Victorian era to house one grown man, but now all these years later housing two. We shuddered, contemplating the claustrophobic existence that this basic room with bunkbed, toilet, sink and table would offer its inhabitants: up to 23 hours spent in close proximity with another human being. Certainly Jo the chaplain has her work cut out, bringing hope to men occupying such conditions.
By contrast, I found myself in a very different cell in Norwich. Here, connected to the main body of St Julians church, was a room in which a woman who took her name from the church, chose to live in solitude, separated from the outside world. This anchoress had one window that looked out into the church, and one whereby passers by could call and receive her spiritual insight. For the rest of her time she would pray, read the scriptures and contemplate the nature of God. Indeed (as far as we know) she was the first female writer to put out a book written in the English language. Her cell, again though basic, was able to be a place where God was welcomed and experienced.
I wonder how we place ourselves in a place (actual or in a state of mind) whereby we too can be open to God. For me recently, the warm evenings have been an opportunity to sit outside and simply be still and quiet. Can I encourage us in our different ways to seek out God, that our experience might be that of Julian’s, knowing the assurance that:
"all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”