I recently visited someone in federal prison. It wasn't the first time. I've visited the same person several times in prison over the past several years. I don't like it, and I didn't want
I didn't want to spend my Friday night driving for over an hour in the middle of rush hour traffic and then an hour home. I didn't want to put up with dehumanizing security measures -- locked doors, metal detectors, standing in a line-up and removing my shoes to get sniffed by dogs, condescending guards with too much swagger. I didn't want to sit in a bleak crowded room at a table bolted to the floor on an uncomfortable chair also bolted to the floor. I didn't want to plug quarters into vending machines for crappy snacks and bad coffee that neither of us need. Of course we're not allowed to bring in anything else.
Some people think that visiting someone in prison makes me a good person, that I've done something good. I suppose, no I know, my visits mean a lot to him, however I don't think that makes me especially good.
Visiting is difficult for me. I don't do small talk well at the best of times. And small talk is hard inside. Imagine it. You sit down across from someone whose whole life is scheduled and constructed by institution and ask, "so, what have you been up to lately?" Absurd.
This is not someone who has seen the latest Star Wars movie, been following the new Heroes reboot on TV or even likely seen the game. Any game. He didn't do anything for Christmas. We're not family so we're not catching up about Aunt Edna. And it's hard to have a good spiritual conversation when you've got guards staring over you and you know that every word is being heard by someone through the mic built into the table. More importantly he knows someone is listening to every word. It doesn't really make someone open up.
In Matthew 25:36-40 Jesus says that when you visit the imprisoned, even as you have done to the least of these you have done to him. Yes. But you don't feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the imprisoned to get on Jesus' good side. Powerful as that is, if you're only doing it for that reason it kind of loses something. For me, the most important reason to go there is because I am the imprisoned.
"Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured." Hebrews 13:3
One of the great spiritual lessons I'm trying to learn is what Oneness actually means. Or in different language, what does it truly mean to be the body of Christ? More and more we are becoming re-aware that there is no separation. Creation is all of a thing. If there is some part of Creation that is suffering and imprisoned, then some part of me is suffering and imprisoned, indeed we are all suffering and imprisoned. If you've ever experienced either back spasms or a headache that set your stomach on edge, you have an idea about this. If one part of us is suffering the whole is suffering.
The hardest part about a prison visit is visiting the imprisoned parts of myself, the parts I'd rather not have to see. In the same way, we'd rather not see the people we put into prison. Those parts of me are also what imprisons others.
We like to imagine that we only incarcerate those who are the bad parts of society, that it's good, it makes us safe. My experience is that most people in prison are not as bad as we like to think and most of us aren't as good as we pretend. We are all struggling and broken in some way. At least I know I am. I would venture that most of what under-girds the actions that land people in prison is less about badness and more about pain. And what happens when we try to ignore or suppress our own pain? It just gets worse. Wounds fester. Locking up people who are in pain is neither helpful nor humane. We heal when we acknowledge what hurts us, not by locking it away.
If all of Creation is connected, I am only able to heal the world in as much as I can heal myself. Going to prison forces me to look at my own wounded places and heal those. What wounds in me wound other people?
I spent the the drive out to the prison praying. I looked into my own brokenness to find where my wounds, my pain, my brokenness, contributed to the brokenness of the person I was visiting.
I looked, for example, at my irritation at the long drive, acknowledging the pettiness that could make me feel justified in complaining about something relatively trivial when I am visiting someone whose life circumstance resulted in imprisonment. I did the same for my impatience with guards, recognizing that my energy of impatience impacts their work. I looked at my sense of judgment and prayed into that. For the duration of the drive, over an hour, I acknowledged and prayed for those parts of me that point to greater woundedness. Modelled after the ho'oponopono prayer, I breathed into those places, saying "I am sorry. I love you. Please forgive me (and feeling the forgiveness). And thank you." I breathed healing prayer into my wounds.
And you know, this visit was better. The guards were friendly and relaxed. The one potentially condescending remark I shrugged off. While I had to walk through a metal detector, there was no lining up to get sniffed by drug dogs or having to take my shoes off. The person I was visiting seemed much more relaxed. There were few visitors so it wasn't so noisy or crowded feeling. We bantered and laughed. He taught me how to play Texas Hold-em with cards that the guards put out when he said into the the table mic that he wished there were cards. We also talked a bit about his concerns about getting out and his experience his whole life of being labelled and how that has impacted him. We visited for close to an hour and a half.
I will continue to pray for me. For those parts of me that cause him to be labelled and judged for past action. And not denying that he has made bad choices, I will pray into the parts of me that also make bad choices. I will connect to the Infinite Divine and breath into those parts apology, love, forgiveness and gratitude. And I will continue to hold gratitude for the healing that he has brought me by inviting me into his pain.
At the end of the visit, I was able to get into a car and drive away but the person I had visited was escorted back to a cell. It was a tangible sign of our collective brokenness and the many parts of me that need healing. And so my on-going prayer. I am sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you.
Writing, life and turning 50, Part 1
Every so often I pick up my journal, longing to write, and nothing happens. Longing. Which as I write this now seems a funny thing. Who longs to write? People long for home or love or God, but writing? And some part of me realizes that in writing I can connect to all of those things.
But there are those days that I pickup my journal, which is one of those blank sketch books that you can get in art supply stores. And I choose the colour pencil crayon that calls to me in that moment. I find the next blank page after the last time I visited and with eager anticipation write the date. And nothing. No words come out.
Sometimes I think that this is because I want something profound to emerge out of that colour pencil, rather than just letting what's there stand on its own, no matter how mundane it might seem. And yet, other times, that space fills me. The blank space is just what I need. It's as if that longing I sometimes get to connect through written words leads me to what I really need in the moment, which is silence and openness and pause.
I'm not necessarily a prolific writer. Or perhaps I should say that I'm not a prolific catcher of all of the stories that I think of. I can turn almost anything into a story, but only manage to write down some of them. Sometimes if I'm driving or showering or don't have anything to write with I try to remember and plan to write it down later. Lots of time by the time I step out of the shower or arrive where I'm going I've forgotten the fact that I was going to remember something. This doesn't happen every time. Sometimes when I stop I will pull out a note book, or now quite often the memo app on my smart phone, and try to re-catch what I had been writing in my head earlier. Sometimes this works. And sometimes I read it over later and realize the brilliance of my original thinking has eluded me.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about age. 2015 was the year that I and many of my friends turned 50. I'm not hung up about it, but at the same time I also often find myself both reflective and confused. For example, I am a voracious reader. I always have a book on the go, sometimes more than one. I am a particular fan of mysteries which, I confess, I read more than anything else. I particularly like mysteries featuring tough but soft women sleuths where the back story is well developed and there is good focus on interpersonal relationships. As a younger adult I remember reading those stories with a sense of possibility. Not that I aspired, really, to be a detective, but to be smart and tough and have the accouterments of a real adult. The detectives were always older than me and I harboured this unspoken notion that when I got to be that age, I too would have a successful career, friends who would rally around during life's hardships and maybe even a handsome, smart boyfriend who loved me despite my quirkiness.
Suddenly I'm finding that I'm reading those books and the heroine is now younger than me and I have somehow gotten twenty years older than her and haven't even landed on that career, let alone a house and an airplane, or whatever. I have to work hard some moments to remind myself that if I don't see friends surrounding me ready to step into the fray on my behalf, it's mostly because I don't remember to keep in touch, or tell anyone about whatever it is I need support with or want to celebrate. My spouse actually does seem to love me even though I'm messy and inconsiderate. But I really, really feel like I should have my life way more figured out by now.
Writing, life and turning 50, Part 2
When I turned 50 a few months ago, I imagined that I would write something to mark the occasion. Not that I had words of wisdom, per se, but I figured I'd have something to say. And yet nothing particularly rose to the surface.
I carried my wondering into a time of busy-ness as I hit the September new year in full gear, on the road while continuing to hold the congregation where I work. Being on the road suggested the image of journey. I had some profound thoughts about that which I wish I'd been able to write down except I was driving. Now those thoughts are just glimmers about times when we can see the road and times when we cannot.
On the long flat drive from Calgary to Lethbridge there were miles of open land stretched out and the scenic edges reached horizons. This I imagined as those times when possibility stretched out before me. But during the long open stretches to Lethbridge I would catch myself mesmerized by the straight, flat roads and find my mind wandering.
The drive the following week from Prince George to McBride could hardly have been more different. Here in BC, where I've lived most of my life, roads curve and mountains surround us. We learn to read signs because we cannot see what's around the corner. The scenic edges were right there outside the window as I wound my way through valleys, alert from the turns and twists of the road.
I wonder what those drives can tell me about life. About the times when things should have been clear but my mind wandered or the times when quick turns kept me wondering what was next.
My life has most often been like a BC road trip. I rarely know what's around my corners. I imagined, though, that by the time I hit 50 my life would seem more clear. Or I'd feel more like a grown-up. Or something. In my early 20s I figured that by the time I was in my mid-thirties I'd have a career and a sense of self. Yet I found myself back in school in my late 30's. I'd already passed through several careers from black and white photographic printer to communications professional to community organizer. Now I add minister to the list but I'm far from feeling like I've landed yet, still trying to figure out what I'm doing. I'm sure my congregation will be happy to hear that. (Read that last bit as sarcasm.) And I am increasingly feeling called to offer energy healing into the world.
I find myself startled more and more now when I meet people or read about characters in books who are distinguished by maturity and life experience and, I don't know, place in society. And then I realize that we are the same age. That's the startling part. Not that I aspire to place in society, but I feel like somehow I've failed to grow up. Not that I aspired to grow up either.
So I guess that the wisdom that I've gained is just that the whole thing is a process. There are things I feel like I learn over and over, every day. Like don't put something on the stove and then go do something else "just for a minute." My compartmentalizing mind immediately forgets about the stove and, well, you can fill in the rest. Another one -- when I write an e-mail response and think "you should probably wait before you send that," -- I should probably wait before I send it. I don't always listen to my own advice. *Sigh*.
I have tried to be less judgmental and more kind. That was one of my goals of the last year. Fast on judgment, feast on kindness. I suck at this. As you've probably just noticed. But I don't give up. Every day provides a new opportunity. And as I see social media foment judgment against others, I am determined to do better, to be more compassionate.
I recognize that I am imperfectly human, just like everyone. Although there are moments when I feel the divine flowing through me. And in those moments I am aware that I am accompanied on this journey, thanks be to God. And I only hope that when I don't get it right, when I am cranky, when I react in judgment, when dinner boils over on the stove, when I think it's all up to me, when I. . .
What I hope is to remember that grace is for me too.
The journey continues. And eventually I'll get somewhere. But for now the journey is the thing.
musings of someone spiritual and oddly religious
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