Monday, May 21, 2007

A Room with a View

This is part of an address I gave during my time as a prison chaplain. It was based on E. M. Forster's book, A Room with a View.

"If I remember rightly the view from Forster's room is of two kinds. For one thing it's a view of the hills of Tuscany, an Italian landscape. At the same time it's another kind of view. It's a view of two people; two people who are not at first able to see what to others is most obvious, that they are falling in love. It's a room with a view.

"There is, not far from this room where you are sitting now, not far from this chapel, in this prison, a room with a view. Stictly speaking it's out of bounds to prisoners, it's off limits. In the bad old days when so-called Catholics had to be separated from so-called non-Catholics it was the Catholic vestry, where Catholic priests put on their robes and prepared to say mass. So it would have been out of bounds for me too.

"Now if you ask John, the chapel orderly, he will tell you that in many ways that old vestry is the best room in the castle, or at least in the prison. John has duties there, so he has to spend time there, though he's not complaining. The room, though small, is light and airy. There is fresh air to breathe, and when the sun shines it pierces the gloom that can so fill your mind when you are on the wrong side of these prison walls. There are moments in there when you can't help but feel more cheerful, and more full of hope.

"And it's a room with a view. Standing or sitting at the window you face east, as you are doing now. You see a picture of Lancaster east of the castle, a townscape which includes the eye catching Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, and many other great buildings besides. So it is truly a room with a view.

"But there is another room in this castle which is also a room with a view. The surprising thing is though, that the room I'm speaking of has no windows. It's a view without windows. It's this room, this chapel, I'm talking about.

"This chapel, this windowless chapel, without an outside wall, is nevertheless a room with a view. Not a view of the outside, of landscape, townscape, buildings, but of the inside, of you and me, and what is inside you and me; who we are, who we really are, and what we could become.

"This chapel, I like to think, is a room with a view. The view is expressed in a message which is delivered here, week in, week out. The message is, You are loved. You are believed in. Your life is worth living, inside and outside. You are of value.

"Sometimes we need to be reminded of this, even if we've heard it before. And if you haven't heard it before, or believed it before, well, there's always a first time!"

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