Right to the very end, New Zealand continues to offer unusual and exciting experiences.

For as long as I can remember I have had a recurring nightmare in which I find myself inside a tiny room containing only a toilet and a sink. There are no windows and there is no way out either under or over the only door that permits access to this small closet. The lock on the door is broken. I am locked in.

This afternoon before leaving the Pa Maria (“Home of Mary”) Spirituality Centre after leading a six hour workshop, I stepped into the Men’s toilet in a tiny cupboard with only a toilet and half sink. There was one door, no windows, no vent, no way out except the way I came in. After washing my hands I turned from the sink and reached up for the lock on the door. The small mettle handle of the lock turned and clicked. The bolt did not slide back. I turned the handle again. This time there was no click and the handle spun freely. Nothing moved. The lock was broken and useless. I was locked in.

I knocked on the door. No answer. I fidgeted with the lock, took out my pen and tried to push the bolt back; nothing moved. I knocked a little louder. This time a voice spoke from the other side of the door, “Are you alright?”

“I can’t get out,” I replied. “The lock is broken. I’m locked in.”

The person on the other side of the door fumbled with the lock from the outside, then said, “Wait a minute, I’ll get a screw driver.” He returned a minute later and I heard a screw driver being pushed into the lock. Nothing happened. It was comforting to know someone was out there and knew of my presence in this minute cupboard. But the process of getting me out was not progressing. Finally, the voice said, “I’ll get someone to help.” Footsteps walked away; two voices returned. Together they fumbled with the locking device to no effect.

I could feel my stomach flutter with a tinge of anxiety. I slowed my breath and tried to stay calm. After a while, I took my pen again and jammed it in the lock to push the bolt back in the direction it should unlock. It did not budge. Finally, with no other ideas, and no positive developments from the outside, I pushed my pen into the bolt from the wrong end. The bolt slid through the clasp and dropped in my hand. I was free.

Ever since arriving in New Zealand, we have been speaking about vulnerability and the frailty of the human flesh. This tiny brush with my own powerlessness is trivial but real.

On Friday twenty-nine New Zealand coal miners in a mine near Greymouth on the west coast were trapped underground by a mine explosion. Today officials are holding out little hope there can be any survivors. There is nothing trivial about this catastrophe for these men or their families, or the community who find themselves locked into the horror of loss.

Every day since Friday the front page of the newspapers have carried pictures of the grief stricken friends and relatives of the missing miners. Their faces are crumpled with pain.

When the media have long forgotten the sadness of this event, the people most effected will continue to walk through dark and troubling times. Some people will remain locked in their grief for many years.

Like my kidney stone attack which nearly derailed this entire trip days before we were scheduled to leave, being locked in a toilet closet for ten minutes is a trivial incident. But it is a reminder of the human vulnerability about which we have spoken since arriving in this country that in three months has experienced the devastation of a major earthquake and the tragedy of a mining disaster. We live always on the edge of powerful forces we cannot control.

While we have been here in New Zealand, a major international story has been unfolding in the distant land of Burma with the release from house arrest of the pro-democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi. Two decades ago in her famous “Freedom from Fear” speech, Suu Kyi said,

It is not power that corrupts but fear… Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps more precious is the courage… that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions.

The way to freedom lies ahead for those who refuse to be locked in by their fears. It is not that it is not that there is nothing to fear; some fears are deeply real and powerfully troubling. The fear of loss for those who have loved ones blasting coal out of the ground cannot be denied, but must not control those who live in its vicinity.

I cannot allow my nightmare vision of suffocating in a tiny toilet cubicle to make it impossible for me to visit a toilet unless I am sure there is an alternative way of escape. When our fears control our choices, we give power to forces that are not oriented towards our highest good. When we acknowledge our fears but refuse to allow them to control our choices, we are liberated to live the deeply transforming lives for which we were created.