“Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” —Jewish Proverb
It’s Wednesday. Any Wednesday. 2:00 PM.
I am sitting in silence with inmates at the Lafayette County Detention Center in Oxford, Mississippi. The local pronunciation of the name is “la-FAY-et.” The men are here awaiting trial, sentencing, or their “more permanent home” in the Mississippi or federal prison systems.
You can stand at the front door of my church, St. Peter’s Episcopal, and see the jail less than a half-block away. Some men in the church have been coming here for years, doing various outreach like starting a library or bringing Christmas cards for the inmates to send to friends and families.
Weekly Centering Prayer
About four years ago, I joined the group in a weekly “centering prayer” session, a form of silent meditation. Twice a month, we bring communion. I previously wrote a blog about me offering “The Serenity Prayer” to those gathered.
Our gathering was modeled after a group at Folsom Prison in California. The Prison Contemplative Fellowshiphas a great website with resources for those who take on a project like ours. They have also posted a 22-minute documentary video about the Folsom work titled Holding Still.
Ken begins every session here in Oxford by saying, “We want you to know that we know you are here. You are not forgotten.” In my mind, I recall the words of Jesus, “I was in prison, and you visited me.”
As the men gather each week, we hand everyone a name badge. Instead of “Hello, My Name is Hank,” each one says simply, “God’s Child.” We all wear one. Incarcerated and free.
The Jewish proverb says it best: “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” It refers to the story in the Hebrew scriptures about how humans were created in the image of God. All of us. Us do-gooder Episcopalian men and those jailed men — all the same image of God.
On the weeks we bring communion, we read from the Book of Common Prayer as part of the service:
“Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions, keep them humane and compassionate, and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy’s sake. Amen.”