Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, saw an angel rushing towards her, carrying a torch and a bucket of water. “Where are you going with that torch and bucket?” she asked. "What will you do with them?”
“With the water,” the angel answered, “I will put out the fires of hell, and with the fire I will burn down the mansions of heaven; then we will see who really loves God.”
I have forgotten where I first read or heard this quote, but the image it conjures in my mind has stayed with me for years. As it teased my imagination, so it has been one of the building blocks of my spirituality--which, if I am truthful about it--has always been "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" (with thanks to Fiddler on the Roof).
I've yet to find an illustration, but I want one, desperately. I wonder if we could live our lives without the threat of punishment or the promise of reward. Could we just do the right thing because it is the right thing? I hope so.
In terms of prison ministry, carrying this story within me means that I don't fall in line with the "scare them away from hell" folks. Fear is all some people understand. The criminal justice system certainly makes that clear. But I don't have to go along with it. I don't have to co-opt that vocabulary and vision. There's room in my thinking for doing things just because they are the right things to do.
I hope I have that courage.