Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Words do matter

February 19, 2008

This is one of those days when everything feels right. When I awoke this morning, it was about 10° – cold for here – but along with that came beautiful clear skies to frame the muted winter light on the  woods behind the house.

On the immediate agenda is to get outside for a quick run. Indoor work includes developing a reflection booklet for our Lenten Day of Reflection this coming Saturday. I have received several suggested quotes, poems, and passages on our selected theme. Our practice has been, for the past five years, to base our theme on a passage from the readings of the following Sunday. It works. The theme this year is robust: 

“Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.”   [Jn 4:14]

And, coincidentally, we have recently been given a hand-carved woman-at-the-well. The carver is an impoverished resident of Cite Soleil in Haiti. Definitely a center piece for our gathering space. This photo will be on the cover of our booklet as well.


On the home-front, we had a couple of kitchen cabinet hinges lose their plastic cam for spring closure. They simply fatigued and snapped off. In a matter of 20 minutes, or so, I found a source on the Internet (at 7 a.m., of all things)  and ordered 12 hinges. For one thing, we have assured no further breaks now that we have a ready reserve on the way. What did we do before the Internet?

Tomorrow is prison day. Recordkeeping is a must for me. On any given day, I’ll visit with 20-25 men, all of whom will be different from my last visit. During the year, however, the visits usually settle in around 80-100 offenders with several visits with each one. My folder includes seven years of visits on a spreadsheet. By the time I’ve updated the information the evening before I go down there, I’m ready to reconnect and listen.

One may wonder about the term “offender.” That is the term used by the Department of Corrections. I couldn’t agree more. The terms “prisoner” and “inmate” describe states of being. The term “convict” implies that something has been done to him or her. The term “offender” places the label, and the reason for it, where it belongs. Words do matter.

The other side of the steel door

February 16, 2008

Lent has begun in a more thought-provoking manner this year than in prior years. Ash Wednesday was very early, February 6. It is doubtful that it can ever be much  earlier. Easter falls on March 23, and the formula for Easter Sunday placement requires that a lot be squeezed into a very short time span.

Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon which follows the vernal equinox. In 2008, spring begins on March 20 which also helps. That, at least, allows two days for the full moon to appear.

So, in the dark and cold of winter,  we held an Ash Wednesday service at the prison from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. I have a pile of transparencies for doing a group Stations of the Cross. We found an uncluttered wall in our small room which would be visible to all 18 offenders in attendance. There is a set of small ceramic stations for hanging on the walls of the main chapel. Instead of hanging them up, we passed them out at random. The holder of a particular station would read the “Christ speaks”  part for the station with the corresponding number shown on the transparency. Everyone else would read in unison the “I reply” portion. Reading the parts aloud can be difficult for some due to the emotions expressed in the writing.

When we finished, I asked a general question, “What did you think?” After a few brief responses, one offender began to share some very, very deep concerns in his life. I just listened. After a pause, one of the others responded. And then another. After 15 minutes, or so, most had offered  very supportive, encouraging, and understanding comments and suggestions. I had very little to say – even at the end.

A couple days later, on Saturday the 9th, I participated in our third Catholic Lenten Seminar at the prison. That session ran from 1:00 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Again, I found myself speechless as thoughts, concerns, struggles were revealed and shared. Powerful moments were present during the seminar as during the Ash Wednesday service.

I must be getting old. All during my professional life, those who held positions like mine were expected to solve problems, fix and run things. In an environment like a prison, there are few things that can be fixed, and very little flexibility to “run” anything. It seems the only options are to be present, to listen, and to do what I can to help others take a different look at what’s going on in their lives.

The biggest single barrier is my lack of having experience in an offender’s reality. Particularly those in isolation. I don’t have a clue. There are times when I may get a glimpse at what it is like, but do I really have the foggiest idea? No.

My first conversations with incarcerated men were in December, 2000. Over these more that seven years, I have learned a great deal from hundreds of men. But on the other side of that steel door is a life I can’t even begin to imagine. The circumstances surrounding the lives of those men are beyond my comprehension. Being systematically abandoned, forgotten, despised by society – and often by family – is a condition unavailable to me … at least at the present.

As Lent moves forward, I will continue to reflect on what’s going on around me in my ministry.