The first thing I noticed, as our Kairos Weekend began inside the prison last week, were the guys who didn’t show.
It’s rather an odd thing to experience among inmate-retreatants. Most welcome the chance to get some time out of the cell…even if they are not in the least bit interested in the message of the Kairos Weekend. They’ll show up for the cookies, on Thursday night anyway. And then, sure, the number of participants may decrease a bit as the days go by.
But this time, even our opening session started with far less than a full house. Half-a-dozen of our scheduled participants never did come to Randolph Hall – and it set a decidedly peculiar tone for how I encountered spiritual gifts in the days that followed.
In large part, that had to do with the role I’d taken on for this Kairos Weekend: As “Observing Leader,” one of my primary responsibilities is that of timekeeper – keeping things on track throughout the course of a jam-packed four-day agenda. Plus, having a large number of no-shows meant spending a LOT of time and energy rearranging our “Table Families” and “Team-Host” assignments.
Important administrative details, I suppose. But with my head buried in those details, I noticed, it didn’t leave much opportunity for my heart to become engaged in personal connections. I didn’t really get to know any of the Resident participants during the Weekend. Even my “quality time” with teammates seemed truncated by the relentless, ever-evolving demands of the leadership role.
Still, a bit of strange beauty managed to work its way into my experience of the retreat. It came in the gloaming…outside the prison, as we gathered for dinner.
Check this out:
Even a harried, preoccupied Observing Leader had the cranial capacity to appreciate the moment: This one tree, with its many branches…some, seemingly insignificant…but all, essential to the whole.
And this fleeting beauty became something of a cherished take-away as the days – and their demands – wore on. Recalling the tree, I could see the same sort of vascular communion taking shape inside Randolph Hall. A roomful of strangers, becoming less enigmatic to each other with each passing hour…until by Sunday, the Trunk had been fully revealed: Christ, among us – feeding us…making us One.
…and then, sending us out – into our cellblocks, and into the world – while also answering the very plea we’d been making throughout the Weekend as we prayed the Kairos Community Prayer:
Teach us to love each other
as You love us,
to give ourselves
as You give Yourself, so that the
Kingdom of God might be made
present to all. Amen.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.