Life has those moments, fleeting though they may be, where it’s just such a joy that when you hear the term “you can almost taste it” you know where that’s coming from, you get it. This past week I had such an experience.
This is a prison ministry story. And, if you’re a first time reader or need a refresher, I go into the state prison at Wrightsville once a week as a chaplain. (Aside: In prison lingo you would be addressed as “Chap,” as in “Hi Chap” when thus engaged. I don’t look anything like a guard and carry a bible, so they have no trouble spotting me as a chaplain and calling me out as “Chap.” But I digress.)
Last Thursday, May 4, was also the National Day of Prayer, a nation-wide event where, in various communities, those who pray gather and, well, pray. They pray for the nation and its various offices and institutions, doing so without any partisan lean. And I typed “they” but it’s really “we.” And in this case by “we” I mean myself and a friend of many many prison ministry trips, James Tyus, went in and held a Day of Prayer at one of the barracks at Wrightsville prison, just south of Little Rock.
To explain: Prisons are segmented into barracks, groupings of inmates, which are isolated from the other barracks. (Obviously when going to chow or work detail this isolation doesn’t exist.) We went into a barracks run by the chaplaincy at the prison which provides religious instruction to those assigned there.
Obviously we prayed, and obviously we had a chance to talk and present about prayer, what prayer is, what prayer isn’t, that sort of thing. Then talk about what it means to pray for something other than yourself, your country for example. It seems like I’ve pointed it out in this space before, but further for clarity’s sake, one of the things I’ve learned to massive turn in doing prison ministry is the importance of getting out of your own head.
Let me rest here on that last point. People get all “Hey this is so great you go and do this thing with those people….” and so forth, and it’s nice. I appreciate it. Heck, feel free to compliment me any ol’ time. But the thing is, and in the previous paragraph the case in point, I never understood (and again, pretty sure I’m repeating myself here, but it bears repeating) getting out of your own head is so important to having a fulfilling life.
And yeah, that is exactly, to the word, what I shared with the guys in the barracks, along with, sure, other words, hoping to align ourselves closer to God and spiritual awareness in prayer. (This wasn’t news to them; religious barracks, remember?)
And we prayed, we prayed for the presidency, we prayed for the State Department, we prayed for, oh gosh, the military, the courts, the governor, the legislature, the … just on and on. We prayed for, sure, the prison system, the chaplaincy, federal, state, regional, local, we prayed for all of it. We didn’t beat ourselves up, we took breaks. We talked about what we were engaged in, about getting out of our own heads. We had, we took, almost to the minute, two hours. (Prisons, as you can imagine, run by the clock. As soon as we were done it was chow call. Chicken that day, by the way. Always exciting news when it’s chicken in the chow hall.)
It felt great. You don’t carry your cell phone into prison, so it’s just you, the Bible, about 20 inmates, and prayer. No distraction, no interruptions past the occasional bark of a guard’s radio.
And I don’t know where you’re at on prayer. But I will have to say - experience talking here - taking a few hours to get out of your own head and petition God on behalf of others, and just that, is a joy so great you can taste it, and one I highly recommend.
It’s better n’ chicken.