In Prison

We began the Centering Prayer Fellowship today at the Coffeewood Correctional Center near Culpeper with a round of “What are we grateful for?” The ten inmates present responded with a variety of things they were grateful for – I am grateful for the Good Lord, responded one; for family and support responded another; for my Christian Brothers in this place; for grace and mercy; for my relationship with God; that God speaks to me; for forgiveness; for the Holy Spirit and for darkness and light. It felt to me today and the previous times spent with them that they respond and share with their hearts.

I am continually surprised and grateful for the participation each man shares with the group and with me as their facilitator. There appears to be trust among them. And each has welcomed me into the circle.  

“Welcome to the New Year”, I had written on the outline for today’s fellowship, “what might this year have in store for you?”  Again, each shared a story of hope and sometimes of darkness or anxiety. One shared that in the summer of 2020 he will be released! Such a beautiful smile on his face. One and a half more years!

We read together from Paul’s letter to the Romans (7:15-25) – Why, oh Lord do I do the things I do when I know they are not according to your Love of us? “Yes, I am full of myself” (The Message). “Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me” so often, the passage continues. “It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.” We all nodded in agreement! We entered into a deep sharing around the table. Such trust they seem to have in one another that they can share such deep and personal thoughts.

We spoke of ‘sin’ – ‘the presence of disobedience’ on man responded. Being ‘separate from God’ responded another. The ‘absence of the goodness of God’. We agreed that certainly sin encompassed our lack of true humility. One man told a story – A Prison Chaplain was given a plaque on which was written – the humblest man I know – When the Chaplain put this up on his desk, an inmate came and removed it! Once you put that plaque up, where was your humility!? Smiles all around and from the Chaplain too!

We moved into Centering Prayer. I made sure each man had a copy of the book: Finding God Within: Contemplative Prayer for Prisoners by Ray Leonardini. This is a beautiful and moving book which can be a treasure for anyone, in prison in a facility or in their minds and hearts.

Who am I? begins one of the first chapters in the book. “By sitting in silence, we allow God to take over and fashion our lives as was originally intended. We begin to see God as a loving ‘parent’, rather than an angry judge or abusive parent.” (p. 11) As originally intended. Sit with that for awhile.

In Centering Prayer, in the silence and stillness it is our intention to listen, to experience God (The Ultimate Holy Mystery, the Divine Presence, the Holy One). In Centering Prayer, we ‘consent’ to the Presence of God in our lives. Our conversation turned to – what does ‘consent’ mean? “To get out of your own way” responded one. It means ‘welcome’. Allowing the Holy One to enter in us, with us and around us. Opening our heart and life to the Divine.

Another inmate related how during Centering Prayer our minds wander and we entertain many thoughts, he has learned to wander back to his sacred word, (a word we have chosen by discerning our intention to Center oneself in the Divine) in order to be mindful once again of the Silence which God is directing. I liked that word ‘wander’. It is gentle and not hurried but a directed wandering.

Genesis begins with the first of two beautiful and different stories of the Creation. At the beginning of the first story we read, as translated in the Complete Jewish Bible and the New Living Translation that “the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water…” I have always been moved and touched by the use of the image of hovering’. Is the Lord’s ‘hovering’ a silent movement of Divine stillness and compassion? Is Silence the first language of God?

I used a metaphor of someone knocking on the door, ‘and with heart pounding in gleeful and yet hesitant anticipation, one opens the door, views God, the Divine Presence and then enthusiastically greets the guest’. In all forms of earnest, Divine directed prayer we welcome, consent to an experience of Union with our God.

Letting go … intent … consent … breathe … be still … rest in God …

We sit silently for about 10 minutes. We end holding hands and pray the Lord’s Prayer.

May you allow the Holy One to embrace you. Amen.

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