Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Prison By Moonlight

It is bitterly cold here with temperatures hovering near zero.

Last night I drove from our church to the institution where Ken is chaplain. I was going to assist in teaching a class at the prison chapel. The moon was large and bright in the night sky, and the snow reflected an almost florescent light. The new snow was full of sparkles, as happens when the temperature is very cold. Fields stretched wide and white, and trees lifted their stark, bare branches. Our church is holding a week of prayer, so I decided to pray as I drove through the silent and beautiful countryside.

This year's week of prayer has something different about it that is difficult to describe. It is almost as if we can sense God's presence as warmth. Several have commented on this, even though they are coming to pray in a slightly chilly sanctuary.

The warm presence of the Holy Spirit was in our midst last Sunday morning in a marked way. Our singing was wonderful, not so much skilled as deeply worshipful. I spoke of the personality of God's Holy Spirit--a Spirit who is not an far-off, impersonal divinity or cosmic force but instead One who wills, teaches, guides, and feels. Thank you, Psalmist, for allowing me to use your story of a very personal and remarkable God encounter. Listening, some shed silent tears. A kind of quiet peace showed in some of the uplifted faces.

The candlelight on the altar table this week seems almost to be a reflection of the warm presence of the Spirit. I thought of this as I prayed aloud, driving through the dark of a Wisconsin winter night.

Arriving at prison, the usually crotchety night shift guard almost smiled. I negotiated the gatehouse with a minimum of difficulty, and I climbed into a freezing van for transport to the chapel. We passed a few hardy inmates playing basketball on a small court outside their unit, dribbling and shooting the ball in unusual silence as the moon reflected enough light for their frigid game. I shivered and watched the cloud my breath made in the van, as the guard-driver passed various dark buildings. Prison is a dark place in more ways than one.

Then ahead I saw the chapel. The light inside shone through the chapel's large purple and blue glass wall, illuminating the surrounding darkness with an almost holy light. I glimpsed the platform lights and a few men moving inside. How I wish I could take a camera inside the prison. The sight of the chapel full of light in the snowy night was startling and lovely.

Later, we prayed together for "the brothers," as the Christians refer to themselves, to stay strong and to shine for Jesus in a spiritually dark place.

Today in our candlelit sanctuary I prayed the same for my little church, and for all the churches who seek to be the light of Christ in a dark world. Holy Spirit, be present wherever you find hearts open to you.

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