The two of them stood side by side in the corner of the tiny prison chapel, bodies poised, knees flexed at exactly the same angle with arms raised above their heads – but not exactly in an attitude of prayer. The inmate (whom I will call James), a noted consultant in the practice of golf, was demonstrating a particular stroke; his good mate Pat was alongside him, eager to improve his technique.
Pat golfs at the club outside town; James, for a certain chapter of his life, was limited to “golfing on the inside,” that is, inside the New South Wales prison system with little more than his imagination to work with. James is tall and in the prime of life. Pat, who wears his ninety-one years rather well, is short and stocky.
I was exploring the possibility of local prison ministry when I met Pat. He had been conducting a Prison Fellowship chapel service every week for a quarter century. So we arranged for a coffee. I did not know then that Pat would become like a second father to me, but that is exactly what happened when Dad passed away only a month or two later.
Pat found Jesus (or Jesus found Pat) through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the 1980s. Pat says that is when his life truly began, and he started attending the weekly prison chapel service not long afterward.
Our weekly custom starts in the car en-route to the prison when, at the appointed place, Pat begins to pray: “Dear Jesus, we thank you that you have given us this afternoon to spend with the boys. Help us to listen to them as you would listen to them, speak to them as you would speak to them, see them as you would see them and most of all to love them as you would love them and not judge them. Give a special anointing of your Spirit over the chapel this afternoon that nothing that is not of you would be present among us. Bring those to the chapel that you want to bring, and gather us in your name we pray.”
Once inside, Pat completes the ritual with his opening words. They are always the same and we love hearing them once again. “We know Jesus said that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst of them. So He is here among us, right now in this little chapel. Isn’t that amazing? God is love and He loves to see you here today. All of you love God because He is love and you love your loved ones with His love. So you know Him and He loves those you love even more than you do. There is nothing you can do to make Him love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. He loves you just as you are.”
As the sun streams through the long thin windows, strains of “Amazing Grace” lift our spirits. The whole place resounds with the old hymns or the timeless spirituals born of suffering but pointing to liberation, restoration, and release. Or it fills with the silence that only silent prayers can engender.