10:58am. We've been holding Open Chapel for almost two hours. Two more minutes and we'll clear the place and everyone will head for lunch. It has been a busy morning, a never-ending line outside my office with requests for prayer, for a rosary, for an explanation about something Catholics do or believe. A regular kind of day at the prison.
There is a rumble and then a groan. The noise level in the chapel goes up and then it is suddenly quiet. The bookcase behind me is threatening to dump catechisms and commentaries on my head. The building is swaying, on the diagonal. Is that possible?
I grew up in Central California. I know what this is. "Earthquake!" I yell. "Everyone out!" The chapel/education building is concrete and rebar but I'd rather be outside than inside with this kind of motion.
The move to the sidewalk is quick. A 20-something from Minnesota pulls on my arm. His eyes are wide. "Is it like this around here all the time?" Poor guy. Welcome to the Northwest where earthquakes rumble and volcanoes blow. We live on the wild side here.
It was Ash Wednesday that day, but we never did distribute ashes. Everything shut down for the rest of the day. A co-worker made it in after barely missing the collapse of part of the highway. Most everyone had to find a different way home later that afternoon.
September brought another day of ashes that year.
I think of the faces that surrounded me that day when the earthquake hit. Many of them are back in their communities now because they finished serving their sentences. Some of them are back in again. A few are dead. And yet, still God is with us, riding the crest of the earthquake that rattles buildings and shakes hearts. God is with us.