03 July 2007

There's a kind of hush...

….all over the world tonight… It wasn’t hard to get Herman’s Hermits serenading me in my brain yesterday. It was Monday, the only day busier than Sundays around here. The chapel was full of men in orange. A line of them waited patiently to be issued a rosary and to be instructed on its use. Another line wound its way past the greeting card display. And there was a line outside my door, with helpful offenders reminding each other, “There’s someone back there with her. You have to wait your turn. Behind the line!” Others sat in the chairs to watch a movie.

The noise level was manageable, mostly. Some days the headache starts right behind the eyeball. No fun.

And at 10:30, my computer shut down and the lights went out.

The difference in the chapel was immediate. As if someone had shushed the crowd with a whisper, it grew quiet. There are big windows in the chapel, so business continued, but more men found a seat and started to carry on some real conversations instead of the bantering that had been going on before.

The card room was pitch dark, so the workers brought out some of the more popular cards to a table in the chapel and dispensed them from there.

The line for rosaries was patient. The color choices were limited: black or yellow. Someone asked for blue, but blue—and red—are not allowed. Those are gang colors and you can’t have the Mother of God used for gang-related prayer, you know.

Not everyone who asks for a rosary is Catholic. They have to be reminded that they can’t wear the rosary, even though it’s a circle of beads and has a cross on it. When we don’t have wooden crosses to give away, a rosary is often the second choice. Over and over again we find that giving out rosaries is a wonderful time to do some educating about Catholics and prayer.

Learning to pray the rosary is overwhelming to the one who has never heard it recited in a group. Having the instructions in hand is one thing, but to recite it? That’s another story. When I’m giving out the rosaries, I usually tell a man to say the name of Jesus on each of the Hail Mary beads, and to book-end them with the Our Father and the Glory Be. The full blown set of prayers is good to know when you’re with a group so you can pray along, but when you’re just learning, the name of Jesus suffices.

At eleven, the men went back to their unit to wait for lunch. There was a four-inch stack of mail just from inside the institution to be gone through. It was still dim in my office. My head was full of the conversations I’d had over the past two hours. When I don’t know how to pray for all the people and situations, I close my eyes and I say, “Jesus.” That’s what I did for the next half hour, until the lights came on and the computer rebooted and the phone rang again.

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