21 May 2008

It's Always Something

The upstairs officer came by at lunchtime on Monday. "Do you know who uses Room 206 on Sunday?"

I do.

She held out a plastic garbage bag. Inside I see the paper that was our service sheet for Sunday. And a bright red splotch all across it.

I knew what the problem was right away. I asked, "Did it spook you?"

"Well, I was just going to ask if you could change the color of the candle you use on Sunday," she said.

Not a problem. I can find a white candle for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

That red candle I'd used the last two weekends was a really dark red. I dumped out the excess wax so it wouldn't drip on the carpet or the stairs as we went back to the chapel. Didn't know the darn stuff dried such a bright red.

No deaths, no injuries, just the chaplain's candle wax.

All is right with the world.

19 May 2008

Pentecost Party

Last Sunday, I did not begin each service with, "Happy Easter!" The men were starting to look a bit jaded with that greeting after seven weeks. Things were looking a bit different. I wore a shiny red blouse. The altar cloth was sequined spandex, red, of course. There was a new red candle and dark red (dried) tulips. And a birthday cake.

It was really a Mother's Day cake, but I'd taken off the little plastic doo-dad that said, "Happy Mother's Day" and brought along birthday candles.

We talked about the origins of Pentecost, the spring harvest and road trip festival of Jesus' time. The volunteers who'd tackled the first reading in each service were congratulated for getting through the "Parthians, Medes, Elamites" and assorted others.

I'm grateful for the similar experience every Sunday we gather. We're not "Parthians, Medes, or Elamites," but the truth is that we come from every one of the 39 counties in the state, from a wide variety of states, from different countries (Russia, Cambodia, Mexico, and Belize were represented that day), from different gangs. We speak different languages, had different life experiences and run-ins with the law. Yet, on this given Sunday, we're all gathered in one place, wearing grey or orange depending on the unit, listening to God's word, praying, and sharing communion, no matter what might divide us at other times.

At the end of each service, I lit the birthday candles. Everyone stood and, in our best Spirit-filled voices, we sang "Happy Birthday" to the church. Best singing I've heard in a long time. Very fun.

Plenty of Shoutin' Goin' On

Easter in prison--always a challenge--and always fun. While many churches see a swell of congregants on Easter and Christmas, we have the irony of Mass only on Easter and Christmas. Catholic services here are on Sundays and priests are few and far between and any who are still upright and breathing are busy in parishes. No extras for the prison.

But on Easter and Christmas, we are gifted with a retired priest, Fr. Joe, who comes to celebrate with us. He's here other days as well, offering reconciliation to the men who seek him out. But Easter is fun.

First, will Fr. Joe and the other volunteers make it in to the chapel by 8:15am? Will there be a problem with mainline, officers busy in the dining room and no one to check folks in through the scanner? Will we have fogline? Will we have electricity?

Second, there's the challenge of celebrating Mass in the same amount of time that we usually celebrate a Word and Communion service. With music. We didn't baptize anyone this year, but in past years, in has been a tight squeeze!

After the gospel, Fr. Joe asked if I had anything to say. I did. I'd been caught by the image from Paul about "all of creation groaning" for the week before Easter and I wondered out loud about Jesus being raised from the dead. Did the angels roll the stone away and then did all of creation stand at the edge and yell with one voice, "JESUS! COME OUT!" Did creation yell as loudly as Jesus did a few weeks before, summoning Lazarus from the tomb? So much poetry and art paints the scene in early morning silence. I'm more convinced that it was a noisy event. "JESUS!"

I think I knocked a few people out of their seats when I yelled. In church. More than once. Hey. Why not?