what brings us back to life…

I’m going in to the Marlborough Unit in Port Philip prison on Thursday. [Port Phillip is a maximum security prison for men, the Marlborough Unit is for those residents who have intellectual disabilities]. Ross, the chaplain, wants me to help the men write some statements of faith. [and yes, i find that ironic..]

So, to get myself focussed a little on the task i searched for statements of faith on the internet. It was a depressing exercise – not so much because of what people think [i know my beliefs, or lack of them, are as flawed as anyone else’s might be], but more because of the purpose of the statements of faith. ‘These are the nonnegotiable tenets of the Christian faith’, said one website. Another said ‘These are the fundamental beliefs held by all true Christians’. Sigh.

Many of the men who live in the Marlborough Unit have had a history in the church – they were Sunday school or youth group attenders. It’s funny how, in lives that are lived bucking the system and fighting authority, the one authority they won’t dream of questioning is the church. The church and the beliefs of childhood are untouchable – and not because they believe they’re true, necessarily. There’s something else going on there. It’s going to be hard to break through the things they think they should say, to get through to the essence of what it is that can bring hope in a situation like prison.

I was talking before with a work colleague about how stumped i was for ideas about process for this. He said, ‘at least it’s their beliefs and not yours you’ll be shaping. there’d be quite a bit of silence, otherwise’. which is mostly true, but also not…

and then i just picked up a book of Rumi’s poetry which was on my desk. Rumi is my favourite poet – he was a sufi mystic who lived in the 13th century. The book opened to a page with these two poems:

If you never searched for Truth
come with us
and you will become a seeker.
If you were never a musician
come with us
and you will find your voice.
You may possess immense wealth
come with us
and you will become love’s beggar.
You may think yourself a master
come with us
and love will turn you into a slave.
If you’ve lost your spirit,
come with us
take off your silk coverings,
put on our rough cloak
and we will bring you back to life.


If the face of the Beloved
does not make you gasp in wonder
and laugh ecstatically with joy
then you must be like a stone
good only for building prison walls.

That might be my starting point for Thursday – what are the things that bring us back to life, and what are the things that make us gasp in wonder… we’ll just have to see where it goes from there.


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