The cruck of our freedom

“Ah, but you will not define this ‘freedom’ of which you speak, will you? O monster of tyranny!”

The words were courageously addressed by me, to an important public figure exhibiting bombast and pomposity — rhetorical qualities with which I was earnestly trying to compete. We had fallen into some sort of debate in his impressive mansion or palace; and his other guests were cheering him along.

Perhaps I should mention this was happening in the dream from which I woke this morning. My words seem still ringing in my ears, more than twelve hours later. I was quite pleased with them. On awakening, I struggled to write down what I could remember of our exchange, which I was losing to the filled stomachs of all those whom he had grandly fed. Their catcalls invited me to sit down. My host’s own words were mocking.

I dream; I seem to have extraordinary dreams sometimes, and this one was suitably set, in a rich architectural interior. It was the great hall of some resplendent Elizabethan or Jacobean noble house, with the sense of some intricate mazed garden outside, and a perfumed summer evening. My eyes had been drawn down from the high rafters; the words seemed to have been placed in my mouth, and spoken almost involuntarily. But mostly I was fixed upon the explosive debate, in an interior anachronistically upholstered. (Look at all these steatopygous retainers plump in their cushions, I thought.) My host, while he spoke, small and round to begin with, was inflating like a balloon.

Well, to be perfectly frank with you, gentle reader, he was the late Maurice Strong. Him who “invented the environment,” as (possibly) the silliest of our governors-general once said in his praise.

Let me not speak ill of the dead, just yet. I had once some encounters with the man, which were unpleasant, at least for me. But it would have been out of his character, I think, to confront anyone. That was a job for specialists.

The point of the dream, perhaps — were I Dante I would write it as an allegorical poem, then explain it in silken Italian prose — was to fix an idea in my mind for Saint Andrew’s Day; and by projection through the mysterious Advent season. Something to do with the natural law; with divine freedom and predestination. Something about the Apostle who was brother to Simon Peter, and his journey to the Scythian north. (Eusebius took this from Origen.) Or somehow, all of this was mixed together in my dream.

We do not have unrestricted freedom, or we could fly. We can by no contrivance win unrestricted freedom, for we die. We can have only the illusion of unrestricted freedom, in our pride, or in our dreams. And yet such freedom as we have is real, and is to be found in the path before us — along which not even God will compel us; not even God. And that because it was His part, in His perfect freedom, to grant us this right; together, should we choose, with this aloneness.

Men cannot free men, as it were, from their bondage to this freedom. We can set men free from manacles and chains, but not from the conditions in which men live. We must not promise what no man can deliver.

Advent marks the beginning of the road, before the Incarnation, to the meeting with our Guide in the Crèche at Bethlehem; then with Him to the Cross; finally to the Resurrection and the heraldic achievement of our freedom, from Death. Yet that death is no symbol.

In my dream, I was aware of the crossed beams of the Saltire in the hall above; of the maze long planted in the garden outside; and it seemed when I awakened that these were emblems of the crossroads and the journey ahead. How shall we be guided? And to what, or to Whom?