30 April 2011

The Tomb Is Empty. Now What?

The women from 9East were a glum bunch on Thursday. One of the six had been at the Easter service the week before; the other five were new. Gina is four and a half months pregnant with twins. "The kids are sitting on my ribcage," she said, her face twisted into a grimace. Teresa pondered her fingernails. She's getting out this weekend and one of her first stops will be the nail salon to replace the two fingernails that have gone missing.

We sang, "He's got the whole world in his hands" with not much enthusiasm. The final verse, "He's got the King County Jail in his hands," got a guffaw. I asked, "Did that last verse surprise you?" "Hell ya. Why would God spend any time here?"

We finally resorted to "Amazing Grace" because almost everyone knew that one. By the fifth verse, "When we've been there 10 thousand years," the voices had trailed off. 

Time for the readings. No one wanted to volunteer. "I only have one contact in." "I don't know how to read." "Don't ask me." Somehow we managed to make it through that incident in John's gospel where Jesus shows up in a locked room. The women didn't look impressed.

I had a strong feeling that we were all staring at this:

Just an empty tomb. Now what?

So we talked about that. What's it like to be staring into darkness? What if this isn't good news? Is it okay to just sit here for a while? It is. Sitting with the grief and bewilderment and the anger and resentment is a part of the deal. Resurrection isn't always pretty. And maybe there are fifty days of the season so we have time to catch up with the mystery of it all.

At the end of the service, the women were still quiet. They thanked us for coming, but they weren't all cheered up. I'm glad they weren't. This was a more authentic reflection of their hearts at the moment. Better authenticity than plastered on cheer any day.

Here's something else to ponder: What's wrong with this picture? at least according to John's gospel?

Just wondering!

20 April 2011

I'm not sure I feel any safer

This just in from The Seattle Times. Much of the work in corrections is about managing people. Over time, management has learned what kids in kindergarten know: "Use your words." Effective speech can make all the difference in a volatile situation.

On the other hand, there are people in jail or prison who never got the T-shirt that says, "Plays nicely with others." It doesn't pay to get complacent. There are many tools to use; I'm just not sure the latest one is going to make anyone safer.

At the same time, the comments after the article make me wonder if we're locking up the right people...

18 April 2011

Easter and Easter and Easter again

When I worked on liturgy committees or was on staff in parishes, by the time Easter finally rolled around, I'd have the bends. We'd typically begin preparations for the big seasons and feast days several months ahead. It wasn't unusual to have a staff Epiphany party end with everyone pulling out calendars and penciling in the date for the meeting to prepare the Lenten reconciliation service. To help catechists prepare for Ash Wednesday with their students, resources had to be ordered at least three months in advance and meetings for additional background and questions had to be scheduled.

Working in prison for 11 years, that sense of the bends was still there, but to a lesser degree. As long as I was two weeks ahead of events, things were okay. The liturgical calendar sometimes bumped up against the secular one (who takes down a Christmas tree at 5pm on December 25th?) but Fr. Joe would be there for Christmas Mass the Sunday after Christmas and all was right with the world.

This year, jail lives a different story. There have been no frantic requests for cards, unlike Christmas and Valentine's Day. No one has confessed feeling a failure for not being home for Easter. There hasn't been a rush to see Fr. Lyle for confession. And this week we'll celebrate Easter.

One group will celebrate Palm Sunday, though, on Wednesday. Another group, on another floor, will celebrate Easter on Holy Thursday. The Good Friday service had to give way to a GED class on the 8th floor on Friday. Saturday's afternoon gathering will celebrate Easter. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, two more groups will celebrate Easter because they use the previous Sunday's readings for their service. And somewhere in there, on Saturday night, I'll be at the Vigil in  my home parish.

What I appreciate in all this, what makes me laugh and enjoy the work I do so much: you just never know when the resurrection is going to bump into your life and make a mess of things. Just pay attention, be open, it doesn't always happen according to the calendar.

09 April 2011

How Dead Is Dead?

At a Word and Communion service at the jail this week, we prayed with the readings for Sunday: Ezekiel's adamant pronouncement that God would raise the People from their graves and put them in God's own land and the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.

The Ezekiel reading, a shortened version of what we'll hear at the Easter Vigil, left out the vision of a valley littered with dry bones. It demanded context, so I talked about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, how the city had seen the wealthy and the skilled taken into exile and the poor and crippled left behind to wander and fend for themselves. The city was dead, for all that it might have mattered.

And then there was Lazarus, a good friend who was sick, no, dying, no--he's dead. How dead is he? At least four days in the tomb. No embalming fluid. He's decaying. He stinks. We get the good religious answer from the dead man's sister: "I know he will be raised on the last day." Not much of a comfort (those religious answers never are much comfort in the crisis) but Jesus doesn't stop there. Loud crying sobs from Jesus and finally a shout, "Lazarus! Come out!"

We had a long talk about whether or not Lazarus was really dead, what did John intend by putting this story in this place in the gospel. And then someone said, "I guess we're like those dry bones, all of us here at jail." The mood shifted, became more somber. What has died within us? What has died around us? How are we so dead that there are only bones left?

It's only now, three days later, that I find myself thinking of the movie, "The Killing Fields" that chronicled the deaths in Cambodia. And of the devastation in New Orleans with so many of the poor were left abandoned. Of the display cases full of wire-rimmed glasses at Auschwitz. Of Haitians still living in tents more than a year after a massive earthquake. Of the remains of Sendai tumbling in the Pacific waters. Of Christchurch bulldozing its way to a new existence.

The list of devastation runs long, full of the names of towns flattened by war and disease and human destruction. When I look at all of that, can I believe the words of a prophet like Ezekiel? Do I believe the cry that comes from the depths of the heart of God, the anguished sob that yearns to give life?