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Enforced solitude

by davesandel on May 21st, 2021

Friday, May 21, 2021                          (today’s lectionary)

Enforced solitude

When Paul appealed that he be held in custody for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar.

Were it not for Paul’s imprisonment(s), we would not have four of his letters. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon might not have been written. Paul’s intensity comes through more than ever while he’s in prison.

I think prison would foster my creativity, too. I spent one night incarcerated against my wishes, in a small lockup in Hammond, Indiana after my friend Paul was arrested for driving our motorcycle 90 mph through Chicago traffic. The county cop told us he had been following us with his lights on for more than five minutes. We were in Chicago to drop off canisters of movie film, and the next day our film teacher Kathy Griffin bailed us out of jail.

Well, she bailed out Paul. I was just along for the ride, and I have no idea why I was allowed to stay in the cell with Paul. I remember that we sang parts of “Alice’s Restaurant.” We ask for a pen so we could write graffiti on the walls, but the guard refused our request. We slept uncomfortably on hard benches. We ate the food, which wasn’t bad, as I recall.

Our teacher drove us the forty miles back to Valpo. Paul had to leave his motorcycle in Hammond until after his trial and he paid his fine.

Over the decades since I’ve spent countless weekends in Illinois prisons, often leading songs with my guitar, often with a Bible leading prayers, occasionally sleeping behind the walls, but never again against my will.

The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all I told you.

As I spent just a bit of time inside a prison, I realized two things. These guys, at least many of them, are no different from me. And often, because they are restricted from the rest of life, they begin to know themselves better than we do when we are “free.” They have time to explore their thoughts, their motivations, and their desires. They have time to care more about everything. When they write or draw, paint or make music, what they create elicits deep response.

They also learn to pray with more intensity, as Paul did. They expect God to show up. They imagine God’s presence and give him words. They learn to love God and love their neighbors as themselves.

Wow. Slow down a minute. If I don’t watch it, I’ll be doing something to get myself placed inside the prison walls again, but this time without the choice of leaving after a weekend. I need to remember there are plenty of problems and pain that go along with this enforced solitude. Great suffering is a path immediately available in prison. Remorse and unfinished forgiveness follow most men and women into their prison time, and certainly their victims and sometimes even their families cut all ties.

Jesus shows up, though. And he shows up again and again.

Simon, do you love me more than these? Yes Lord, you know that I love you.

Will Jesus come again tomorrow?

Simon, son of John, do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. And Jesus told him, Tend my sheep.

In prison the sheep might be inmates, or they might be guards, or they might be the victims left outside, and of course they might be family. Wives, husbands, moms and dads, and kids of course, who come to visit now and then but are left to go fishing alone.

Jesus said to Simon a third time, “Do you love me?” And Peter, distressed, said, “Lord you know everything. You KNOW that I love you.” But Jesus only repeated “Feed my sheep.”

Then, writes John, Jesus said something else. He predicted prison for his friend. He predicted an awful death. Peter would not always be in control of his life (and perhaps he was not in control even now):

When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead where you do not want to go.

For some, that’s a nursing home. For some, that’s a prison. For all of us, it’s going to happen somehow. So I think it’s wise for me to learn whatever I can now about surrender and sacrifice. How to think about these things. How to live them. And how to write about them.

When Jesus had said these things he said to Simon Peter, “Follow me.”

Jesus knew Peter’s heart, but still he said, “Follow me.” When I’m caught in sin like Peter was caught in his three denials, I can’t wait to hear those words from Jesus, inviting me back home, where I can come again into the closest touch with God, full inside my heart.

(Acts 25, Psalm 103, John 14, John 21)

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