Due to Covid 19 I haven’t been able to conduct chapel services at Pelican Bay State Prison since February. I found some notes from a service we held last year. Please pray for our incarcerated population during this global pandemic.
The inmates and I talked about doubting Thomas with our hands. Inside our concrete block chapel, with guards at the door, we reconstructed Jesus’s appearance in the locked room after His resurrection. American Sign Language touches each index finger to the raised and opposite palm to signify Jesus and so, not quite 20 strong at our Saturday service, we lifted our hands in surrender, in acknowledgement, to reminded ourselves where the nails went through His Hands. The Gospel of John 20:26 says, “Although the doors were locked Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He says that a lot. It might be important. When He calmed the storm, after being awoken from a deep sea sleep, He said, “Peace. Be still.” Maybe it was a deliberate echo of “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10, maybe it is just the best way to talk to a storm. The Prince of Peace moving among a set of believers, outfitted in Department of Corrections blue, is enough miracle for anyone’s weekend. Jesus blessed us then when He said, “Thomas put your finger here, and see my hands: and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” There we have the crux of the cross reference: Invisible God, made flesh, suffered unto death, resurrected, bearing the imprints of torture, returns to invisibility and commissions the Spirit to touch and teach us in our stretch of the time line morphing into eternity. We come to chapel at Pelican Bay Maximum Security State Prison for this close encounter of kindness, peace, and gentleness. A handshake says a lot about a man. The song says, “Put you hand in the hand of the Man who calmed the waters.” We test that Spirit as instructed.
….. The service to others part of our meeting had the inmates taking turns to write a note on the back of an envelope of outgoing mail to a rehab center a few hundred miles away in the coastal mountains. Pen paling isn’t allowed so the notes had to remain anonymous but the intimacy they carried knows no bounds.
Belief requires action to grow, to root, to expand, to bear fruit. Faith is a gesture of compassion. It expresses the hope of a reward shared by connection. It means little without love. It means the world, and the world to come, with it.
……I volunteer as a prison chaplain to share His Grace, in person, or by writing, because my brothers in blue expect it of me. In turn they send me out, because He sends me in.