i go on leave tomorrow night for a week.

on my first day back i have a meeting with the chaplain at the women’s prison in melbourne – planning a ‘cutting of the ties’ liturgy for another chaplain at the facility, which will then lead into Christmas worship.

so i’ve begun thinking about christmas. i can’t imagine many more difficult places to experience christmas than in a prison. one man i met in prison a few months ago – who is due to be released this week, and has been on my mind a lot – told me that one of the hardest things he’d had to come to terms with in prison was that he could give nothing back while he was there – he felt he could contribute nothing to society, and especially nothing to his family… not even a gift. so even the christian christmas slogan of ‘it’s all about the giving, not the receiving’ becomes another cruel taunt. The chaplain tells me that they normally do worship on christmas eve, because the women can’t bear to be with other people on christmas day. Most of them will just seek solitude on the day.

it would be arrogant – and i think somewhat unfaithful – to think there are words we can say which will make this better, which will make christmas palatable. i think there’ll just need to be lots of silence and space.

we love silence at christmas – we sing of silent nights in hushed voices, we whisper prayers of beauty and calmness, we equate silence with peace.

i think the silence we’ll encounter will be the kind that comes after an earthquake, or devastating news – the stunned, shocked silence when you know the world is turned upside down, but you have no comprehension of how to live with it, to make it fit. somehow honouring the awfulness of the moment and the time of year.

Pete Rollins talked at Greenbelt about God being what happens in the aftermath of rupture. I guess i see prison as a rupture, an apocalyptic event – and at christmas we’ll be waiting there, deeply hopeful and unavoidably cynical, to see if God happens.