Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Vulnerability. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.

The Belgravia Gallery in London is showing prints of paintings done by Nelson Mandela when he was incarcerated on Robben Island. Barbed wire, a watchtower, the indoor tennis court all feature, together with the hospital (shown here). “I remember the stark hospital wards with fondness,” says the artist. “These memories, like this sketch, are filled with joyous colours.” He describes the hospital as a vital link with the rest of the world, where news trickled through to inmates.

It was in the place where inmates were taken when they were at their weakest that they received strength from beyond the prison walls. St Paul too says that in his experience, it is when he is weak, that he is strong*. Many people discover unexpected reserves of strength when they are up against it. Sometimes these come from outside, and many Christians vouch for the support of Christ’s energy in these situations. Sometimes it is inner resources that are revealed by the need to cope with a crisis.

Let’s today rejoice in the mystery of the human capacity to find strength even, and perhaps especially, in times of weakness. Perhaps in our own lives, we can recall such occasions and, whether we are aware of the source of the strength or not, be grateful for it.

*2 Corinthians 12:10


Audie Carr and Benjamin Clarke were found to be missing at a roll call held recently at the low security Leyhill prison near Gloucester. By Monday lunchtime they had knocked on the doors of Gloucester Prison about 20 miles away. “Before, when we were at Gloucester, we managed to get off drugs,” they claimed. “They are too easy to get hold of at Leyhill so we want to finish our sentences at Gloucester.”

Audie and Benjamin needed a firmer environment to help them deal with their inner struggles. Clear boundaries and a secure lifestyle contribute to us being able effectively to hold our lives together. If we are fortunate enough to be experiencing such a framework for our lives at the moment, it may be hard to appreciate its value. But many of those in prison, or otherwise struggling with life, have experienced, early in life or more recently, an absence of the kind of security offered by, for example, a dependable family, a stable job and a reliable income.

Let’s today be aware of those things which give us a sense of security. Not having a sound framework for our lives doesn’t inevitably lead to an undisciplined lifestyle; just as having one doesn’t automatically give us the capacity to deal with temptation and inner struggle. But it does help.


Peasant farmers from Veracruz in Mexico regularly protest at slowness in the progress of their land claims by baring their bottoms. Cars honk, children smirk and most adults smile as they strip off in Mexico City, walk round in a circle for a while, and get dressed again. Turning the other cheek, you might say

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(Decency - and copyright! - prevent a full size photo but if you click on the small one you can see all!).

The tactic for the peasants is a serious one, as it was for Jesus when he used that phrase. In positions of powerlessness, our only weapon is sometimes that very defencelessness. When we are willing to reveal our vulnerability, we lay ourselves open to being taken advantage of. But we also put ourselves at the mercy of the people oppressing us in a way that is strong and assertive and expresses our freedom, not our enslavement.

We may today be experiencing a situation where we feel helpless in the face of abuse of power. They can occur at work, and even in families, as well as in more political contexts. Despair of ever changing the situation can sap our energy. But a strategy to draw attention to our vulnerability in an assertive way can revitalise us. We need to use our imaginations to come up with appropriate forms of words or actions, but, especially if they are funny and done in concert with others, the equivalent of turning the other cheek can be surprisingly effective.