30 March 2010

A Poem for Holy Week

These few lines were in a religion textbook that I used back in my first career.

'The Holy Supper is spread within,
And the many candles shine,
And I have waited long for thee
Before I poured the wine!'

Do yourself a favor and follow the link. Savor the whole poem by Robert Buchanan.


The textbook was These Stones Will Shout by Mark Link, SJ.

I'm finding myself in everyone else's shoes this Lent.

22 March 2010

Forget the Past. I'm Doing Something New---God

Having no elect or candidates this year, and being tied to the worship sheets that we get from Los Angeles, we read Cycle C yesterday, the story of the woman caught in adultery... or the men caught in their BS, though I rarely hear it referred to in that way.

I was struck by several things. The Isaiah reading begins with an invocation of memory, a reminder of what God did in the past. "Remember when I hauled your butts out of slavery? The horses and chariots and charioteers got stuck in the mud and drowned (and you were freed, remember?)" And then "Forget the past. I'm doing something new," namely making the desert, a place where you could die of thirst, a place where you find refreshing water. So remember, then forget.

And then this woman dragged before Jesus as people try to pin Jesus down like some prize butterfly. Jesus doesn't play their game. He just suggests who should go first when they start tossing stones.

But the rocks are too heavy and the accusers go away. Finally, it's Jesus and this woman. "No one left to condemn you?"

"No one," she says.

"Neither do I. Go home and from now on, avoid this sin."

And this is where I want to say: "Easy for you to say, Jesus!"

This woman has to go home, back to her neighborhood and all the people who left behind their washing and cleaning and marketing and chat to witness her being dragged out of her home (is that where she was caught?) and off to the Temple area. Before she even gets home, the story has run ahead of her. The shame! The scandal!

She's got a new life, according to Jesus, but she has to go home. Will the neighbors accept her as a woman with a new life?

If this story had been in any other gospel, she might have left everything and followed Jesus.

And right about here, someone is asking, "How did you get to this point?" Easy. I work in prison. And the men I spoke to on Sunday have committed all sorts of crimes. Some of them have had that encounter with Christ that has changed them, given them a new freedom, welcomed them into a new life.

But what happens when they meet up with old friends from the old life? Will those changes be believed? Usually not. Even close family members are slow to believe that change has really happened.

Okay--but that's later, down the road, maybe years from now.

What about here, in this place? How do we make room for the person who has changed, for the one who has heard, "Go and sin no more" from Jesus? How can we best put into practice the reconciling community?

I don't have too many answers, but I need to ask the questions.

17 March 2010

Signs of Spring in Prison

1. The garden behind my building was rototilled on Monday two weeks ago.

2. It snowed and hailed that same day.

3. There is more than one person walking the track in the small yard.

4. Two of the half-courts are busy with games of "Horse."

5. The pickle ball court is full and has people waiting to play.

(Lest you think we have some huge recreation space, the "courts" are about the size of a couple of driveways.)

6. Softball and soccer compete for attention.

7. If you walk down the hallway in the infirmary, the injuries have shifted from winter basketball to spring baseball, notably, more black eyes from a misjudged baseball.

8. The swallows are back!

9. The yard is open at night.

10. I go to work in the light and come home in the light.

02 March 2010

File This: For Another Season

or maybe even sooner. Why is it I get good ideas once a season has already begun?

We make a big deal about being part of the Body of Christ here at the prison. Okay. Truth is I make a big deal about it. I can drive to several different prisons within an hour or three of my home. Not one of them has a sign telling you you're getting close to a prison until the turn down the actual road. Very strange. For my particular prison, there are three exits to the local town. You have to pass by all of them, and go past the airport, and then some, before you ever see a sign for the place where I work.

That's the physical distance between us and the town.

Then there's the distance that we are from regular life and family. Most of the men who come here came from some other county. Most of their phone calls are long distance. Some of them faced time in county jail that was accompanied by newspaper and TV stories determined to excavate the Grand Canyon between the offender and the victim.

For the offenders, there is a certain kind of impatience that is extended to family. "Don't they know I need to hear from them?" "What are they doing out there?"

Similar questions from family: I'm busy here! I'm trying to hold down two jobs, manage the kids, deal with people asking me questions, and I don't have the energy at the end of the day to write you a letter because I just hung up on three bill collectors.

There are some generous folks who pray specifically for the men in this prison. They stretch around the globe, but it's the parishioners in town who sometimes break our hearts. "They're praying for us?? I thought they'd just want us all to disappear."

There's a world map hanging on one wall in the chapel. It undergoes various transformations. One year, I put up Post-It notes and string to identify where disasters happened around the globe. Someone asked me, after six months, "Could you put some good news up there? This is getting depressing." He was right.

So here's my thought. I'm going to get a map of the world and cut up the countries. Then I'll glue one country (or region--China's awfully big, as are Canada, the US, and Russia, now that I think of it) on an index card. Every guy that comes in my office will get a card and an assignment to pray for the people in that place.

And I'll expand that: if you have a postcard of a place or people you love, send it to me. Put your prayer request on it, leave your street address off. We'll put your postcard in the prayer basket and someone particular will be praying for you.

I'm thinking it's a good project to begin on Easter Sunday. What better way to spread the Good News?

You can send cards to:
The Catholic Chaplain
PO Box 900
Shelton WA 98584

Thanks for remembering this wonderful portion of the Body of Christ.