What if the answer is … prison?

Ministry: n.Late 14c., “function of a priest,” from Old French menistere “service, ministry; position, post, employment,” and directly from Latin ministerium “office, service, attendance, ministry,” from minister). Began to be used 1916 as name of certain departments in British government. see also: servant minister.

My parish is in the midst of a sort of jobs fair for the social outreach ministries in the church, and let me tell you there are many to choose from. In large and active congregations the group usually has more ministries and activities going on than you can possibly hit, all in one week. And if you are not in a congregation, you are surrounded by tons of local and global causes that would love your attention and action.

How do you choose?

This is where we step into those strange religious words like “calling,” that maybe non-religious people don’t use in quite the same way. Religious people are called by some greater vision to go into a particular field and plant the proverbial wheat.

People who do not practice a particular religious faith do this as a matter of some cause that they are magnetically attracted to. The cause speaks to them, or they have participated (like cancer patients who later do work for cancer support organizations.) Maybe it’s a topic that fascinates them. Or it’s a cause that is fun to work in support of because their friends are there, and it’s a group effort. Not to mention the new friends gained when anyone becomes involved in a ministry.

What if you’re not feeling called to do a certain kind of help? I have no answer for that one because the answer comes from inside you. Maybe it’s a cause that you can help with because you are there in the place where you are, in the time that you have, with the tools you carry. Even things like helping mow a neighbor’s lawn while they’re sick, or bringing over food and flowers to somebody down the street or in your building. That’s a calling, too, whether you hear it at the time or not.

None of the above includes simply writing a check to feel as if you have done your part.

Yes, there are many organizations which most need our money to be of immediate help. I’m thinking of Red Cross disaster relief when folks start sending thousands of toys for displaced children. That means the Red Cross has to pay more money to deal with those material donations. Cash – in the time of immediate disaster – is what those organizations most need to get the proverbial boots on the ground, lights, potable water, food, to the people who need it most.

A displaced family cannot – in good conscience – eat a Teddy bear.

One group in the parish that I have a passing contact with is our ministry to folks who are in prison, focusing on a couple of state correctional facilities within driving distance. I have been so busy over the years with my own list of helpful chores that I appreciated the prison ministry being there, and had to say “not my calling,” and keep working. (Of course it’s easier to say that when there’s a well-formed group of volunteers to keep a particular activity from floundering.)

One of the works I add my help to is the prayer chain. It’s a very simple thing to do and works especially well for those of us who are house bound and can’t get out and do physical, laborious work. The minister who leads the group sends out an email each month of the main points of remembrance (on Monday we pray for our ministers, on Tuesday for the Campus ministry, etc.) Those never change.

We get ongoing personal requests in that email and also individually throughout the month as new ones come in. The only information we have on personal prayer requests is a name and a situation. “Please pray for Mary who lost her mother this week,” etc. The people involved to not need to be members (we call them communicants) of our parish.

One doesn’t need to belong to any particular club to pray, or to be prayed for.

Earlier this year, we started getting weekly emails from a parishioner who works with our prison ministries, and she sends a list each week in the same format: an inmate’s first name, and a situation. That is all we need for prayer to happen.

I took these into account and did the same prayers I always have. Lately, the situations started speaking to me of the great job of humanity we have, even when facing inhuman situations. I’m speaking of the moral fight inside of “praying for” a thief or a murderer, or a drug dealer. It’s so easy for me to see the crime, and have a preconceived image of the criminal, and somehow forget that – in some of these cases – there is a person behind that facade of badness who is asking for our help, no matter how simple. Just a prayer.

I’m sharing the ones from this week’s list, but just the situations. I’ll give them all a fictitious name. Remember as you read these, all of the people on this list are for-real in prison. They cannot simply walk free and take any sort of action. Someone must walk for them:

  • Jesus - whose mother died.
  • Jesus - who hasn’t heard for some time how his children are doing.
  • Jesus - still in administrative segregation pending his disciplinary hearing.
  • Jesus - who will be released and reunited with his family on Monday.  His resolves are to get a job, take care of his family, and get into church. Please pray for him as he continues on his journey.
  • Jesus - who is facing the possibility that he will never be released.

 *Thank you so much for your prayers.*

Did you see what I did there? With the names?

The ones who grabbed my attention most and brought me deeper into these weekly lists are the “may never get out again” or “has found a relationship with God and needs help with that” or “wants to make amends.”

It’s not my place to judge these folks in any way, or decide if they’re telling the truth, or to think anything about their ongoing or future punishments.

My job is simply to pray.

Sure, that’s the easy way out of social responsibility, yet I can be active and responsible in the other works I do. This calling to prayer is more simple, and more heart-and-soul focused.

My job is simply to pray.

Who knew that by doing one activity, I would become at least spiritually connected to another that was on the list of not my ministry? I still won’t be the first in line to sign up for prison ministry (it’s still not my calling, and I have tools and skills used elsewhere for other just as worthy causes.) I love and appreciate all who do this difficult and sometimes dangerous job. For them, and all other ministries, activities, outreaches, and missions of the universal  church,

from my simplicity, I simply pray.
Some days, prayer is enough.

Keep the faith!
 – Amen

 

 

 

This entry is dedicated to my great friend Rev. Martha who was so very involved in the prison ministries at our parish. We were great friends, and talked many hours about the things we are put here to do, and how to do it.

Fly big, and rest easy, dear friend.

 

 


 

*The feature image for this article is an icon called “Jesus of the Maryknoll” by br. Robert Lenz.

 

 

 

 

 

Prone to wander… I feel it

I’ve written about this song twice, and I probably daren’t write about it again. In this post from 2008 I speak of waking up in a great organ-filled, bombastic mood of strength and happiness:

Prayer Closet Video – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Today, I’m stuck in that line toward the end about…

“Prone to leave the God I love.”


The humanity in me always pauses on that phrase. I always hear it when singing the lyrics to a song I have sung hundreds of times and memorized so very long ago. Prone to leave God after all these years? How is that possible?

Medical treatments over the past decade have left my brain with adult onset ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) which makes for a great challenge in paying attention and getting things done. You might have heard the term “his mind was wandering for a second,” and that’s more like daydreaming … to stop paying attention for a moment but then being able to jump back into the conversation.

ADHD isn’t like that at all: it’s like the mind is bolting out of the gate and not likely to return to the conversation at hand. It spoils work performance. It puts undue strain on social relationships. It plays complete havoc with being able to show up for appointments on time.

How does that effect the spiritual relationship with one’s Almighty? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle of those two, since I always seem to wander back to the spiritual life at hand.

First remember that we are all humans: we are guys. And as such we do human things. My friend Rev. Tammy speaks eloquently of how our relationship with The Almighty is like a river in that there are the slow, deep sections where one’s boat glides along easily. There’s the rapids where one is holding on to the boat with white knuckled fear of being dashed against the rocks.

And there are the times that the water seems to have run out, and we have to get out of the boat and carry it through the mud to where the water gets wide again.

That’s the way it is.

My mind may wander from one fantastic idea to the next, always wandering away at that idea phase. My concentration may want to become impatient and wiggly like a toddler who doesn’t want to sit still in church. I get like that with God now: wander away to something sparkly and entertaining, and then eventually toddle back and sit still.

This is the cycle of our relationship with spirituality, if the relationship is true. Ebb and flow. Zealot one moment and Peter denying Jesus three times the next moment. I have learned not to feel sad about the wandering off on some tangent and forgetting about God because I don’t notice that I’ve done it until I come wandering back. And then it’s like:

“Hey God.”
“Hey boy.”
“Sorry about wandering off like that.”
“I’m sorry, too, boy. I see you had a rough time. I’m glad you’re back.”
(pause)
“I love you, God.”
“Yeah, I know. And I love you too, boy.”

And from there, the story – and the travels – continue.

Keep the faith!
 – Amen

Come Thou Found of Every Blessing

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise;
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above;
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer,
Hither by thy help I come;
And I hope by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood.

O to grace, how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let they grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee;
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

How to Pray for Peace When You Don’t Know What Peace Is

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world, and when that stuff is happening far away, or in another country, it becomes very easy to follow the standard prayer for things that are bad but don’t really effect me:

I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among nations;
and for the well-being of all people.
Pray for justice and peace.

What if the stuff comes close to home? What if it’s violence or bad feelings or any kind of upset that is so close to your soul that you can feel it? You can smell it?

The best answer is: you can’t.

You can’t pray for peace then because the words don’t come as easy. You’re thinking that if I won’t give God a shopping list of things to fix any other time, how can I do it now.

Look inside yourself and find the peace.

Peace image

One of the prayers that even some non-praying people are familiar with is the St. Francis Prayer. Attributed to St. Francis but we don’t know for sure. The prayer gives a long list of “if this is happening then make me behave in this manner. It’s long enough that folks sort of wander off in thought about midway through. Look at the first line of the prayer:

LORD, make me an instrument of your peace.

In that single line is your answer. If you don’t know how to stop any of the stuff that’s going on outside your door, then ask that – going forward – you have the inspiration to stand above the stuff. Pray that God’s peace show through in your own life and actions.

Repeat as necessary. It’s a wonderful beginning to meditation, thinking to yourself, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Look inside yourself and be the peace.

A fire cannot burn if there is no fuel. Stand firm and discover the ways that you will become that instrument of Peace that the world needs in just that second. It may be small and trivial at the time. It may be unnoticed by others and maybe even yourself. With practice and time, discernment and prayer, you will become that instrument.

God’s Peace be within you and around you.
May you always seek that which is good, and right.
May angels surround you, and hold you upright with
God’s Peace.

Keep the faith!

 – Amen