He’s called an “offender” in the common parlance of the prison administration, but I encountered Ted as more of a “teacher” yesterday.
That’s not at all unusual, I’ve discovered. Just about every time I go inside the walls at Menard – whether for a Kairos Weekend or for a monthly reunion – I pick up a wealth of spiritual insights. Saturday was no different, although Ted’s story didn’t seem all that promising at the start.
When he stood up to talk during our “open mic” time, he said he felt compelled to tell us about the odd dream he’d had lately. That’s almost always a conversation stopper, isn’t it? And when you hear those words coming from the lips of an inmate—well, frankly, your first thought runs pretty much along the lines of: “Uh-oh.”
Ted surprised me, though, as he recounted the dream-scene he recalled—of traveling, rapidly, along a path in an unfamiliar place…until he got to a spot where the path simply was no more. He felt a sense of panic set in, he said. ‘Where do I go? How do I go? I did not know what to do…until the Lord put it on my heart to turn back into the wind – the ruach.’
He actually used that Hebrew word – ruach – which refers to the powerful, creative spirit of God. And let me tell you, when I heard the holy word escape his lips, I was riveted.
‘Turn into the wind – the ruach – and the Spirit will take you,’ he said. ‘The Spirit desires to take us to impossible destinations…to places where there is no path…to places we could never get to on our own.’
Is your mind bent yet? Mine certainly was, particularly as I recalled the story I knew we’d hear in today’s Gospel:
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide – if ever a person in the gospels must have felt exactly what Ted felt in his dream, it’s this gal. She’s about to be stoned…put to death…for her sins. Until Jesus breathes his Spirit – ruach – over the scene.
Then, the masterstroke. Jesus utters less than 20 words, and suddenly everything is changed:
[Jesus] straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’
Improbably, a path opens up for the condemned woman…as one by one, her accusers drift away. It seems almost too good to be true, this Good News that Jesus offers us. It seems like a dream – and yet, it’s real.
I heard that wisdom confirmed again yesterday, in the strangest of places – inside a maximum security prison. Ted’s insight worth meditating upon, it seems to me, as we head into the home stretch of our journey of renewal this Lent:
‘Look not for your own path,’ Ted said. ‘Turn instead into the wind.’ Ruach.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.