February 17 As I look at this picture I remember how very sacred that moment was. I held in my hand 3 heart shaped rocks for the three men I love the most in this world; Charlie, Loren and Luke. I carried those rocks with me from home, and left them there at the Cruz de Ferro, one important location pilgrims pass while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Its a bit of a burden to carry that extra weight, and a relief to leave your stones and the burden they represent at the foot of the cross.
Tonight, my journeys took me to a classroom sized chapel in a medium security prison not far from my home. Clearance had been obtained in advance and the volunteer coordinator was there to greet me and assist me through the metal detector (where shoes, belt and glasses had to be removed before the alarm would stop) and helped me complete other check in procedures. She read me a statement about my expected behavior as a visitor and of the the possible risks involved in visiting this facility. Then we passed through security checks and doors until we were outside, walking across an open area to enter the building holding the chapel. After clearing two more security doors we turned down a long wide hallway of highly polished cement. I thought to myself “walk in the middle where the cameras can keep a close eye on you” and recalled my previous visit to this prison and to other correctional facilities in the area. We entered the last door and waited in a smaller hallway while the Baptist service came to completion. I watched the security procedures as one congregation left and the other entered and prepared the room for the next service. I felt safe, even comfortable trusting that any one of these men would protect me should an incident occur during my visit.
Why was I here on Wednesday February 17? I was invited to participate in this week’s Mass by the men of the Catholic bible study. They know many things about me. You see, my husband has been participating in the bible study as a religious volunteer for 16 years. He often shares bits of home life with the men. So they know about my travels and also my struggles with Parkinson’s Disease. In anticipation of my upcoming DBS surgery they requested to pray for me in person. How could I refuse!
Taking a seat, I folded my hands and placed my thumbs to make a cross, as I did when I held the rocks. The room filled with male voices singing hymns and chanting the prayers of the Mass in English, Latin and even some Greek. The men prayed for each other, for families, for those without families, for the sick, for those in isolation. Then, Father asked them to raise their hands and pray over me as he spoke a blessing.
At the completion of the final hymn, each man came to greet me. One by one they offered words of encouragement and hope and promises of prayers during my surgery and recovery. These men, who had turned to God since their incarceration, made this moment and this place sacred. With their gentle souls and contrite hearts they now lift my heart and my being in prayer.
We left the chapel area as the last of the men were getting a “pat down” check by the officers. The walk in the highly polished cement floor hallway seemed shorter. Soon we were outdoors and I breathed in the brisk night air and felt the chill wind against my face.
I was free. The high walls, the razor wire on top of fences, the locked doors were behind me. But the Sacred moment, no, that wasn’t back in the prison chapel. The men had given me that gift to take with me.