The first miracle in prison ministry is just getting in the gate. After a two hour drive, and several verbal assurances from the warden’s office during the week, my guest speaker was denied a gate pass and left standing without even a glimpse at the altar. As we came up in one car it leads to the awkward moment of me handing over the keys to my van, with instructions to pick me up after chapel, and some less than heart felt encouragement to make the best of the wait time watching for skim boarders at the beach twelve miles down the road.
As I walk through the next few check points, alone, I try to still the condemning monologue rattling around the cages of my mind and be polite to the guards sparing them my choice assessment of the prison’s administration. My personal political theories that prisons exist to confound and exploit, more than to protect and serve, are just more background noise to the Gospel of Peace I am carrying under my arm and hopefully can find in my heart by the time service starts.
I’m in B yard today. The chapel seats thirty or so inmates out of a population of one thousand or so. The chapel at A yard is also open and usually draws about a dozen attendees from a slightly smaller campus. Sometimes we do the math to see if, spiritually speaking, we are the ‘wealthiest’ 1%. As I’m a little late from the snafu at the gate everyone is already seated and there is no time for handshakes and greetings. The opening song, Open the Eyes of My Heart, is already in full swing as I unpack my saxophone and hurry to join in the last chorus. The chapel is a cement block room and the acoustics bounce the mixed sound of the horn and voices back as if we were all inside the Liberty Bell crying “Freedom, Freedom!” like a charging chorus of Bravehearts.
Our study today is Psalm 40:6 “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, my ears You have opened.” Prison is, of course, the ultimate example of a life conformed to rules and regulations. Unfortunately, and perhaps universally, folks have reduced our living relationship to Our Father to something similar. If you stay in your pew, look straight ahead, put money in the basket, and line up with the preacher’s politics you might be allowed fellowship, but if you’re out on the fringes of society like a lost sheep, well that’s up to Jesus and us comfy folks will wait and see what He does with you before we pass on passing judgement.
Why might the Lord open our ears if not to hear from the source of all tender mercies ? Romans 10:17 states that “Faith comes by hearing.’ and is usually ascribed to the process of spreading the Gospel through organized preaching, but can we really limit God to only speaking through ordination? We do well to be cautious of folks who portend to speak of holy perspectives above their reach, but what of the Holy Spirit reaching us individually?
Oliver Mtukudzi is an internationally respect singer songwriter from Zimbabwe. He has a line in a song entitled, “Hear Me Lord” in which he cries out, “Hear me Lord, I’m feeling low.” but the melody rises on the last note, on ‘low’ so upon hearing it the listener is mightily inclined to hop. The spirit of the song is not just in the lyric but in the rhythm, the dance, the experience and we tested the Spirit by closing our chapel time singing and hopping. Hope and joy are the measures of communion and community. Listen for them, because Someone is singing!