I forget how much I need God moments to survive. They are those too rare glimpses of incarnation that help to sharpen the Kingdom into focus before my eyes blur again and I start to believe that the orders and inequities and cruelties of this world are more Real than anything else.
I sat with my friend Claire over coffee yesterday. Like the Chilean miners who have risen from the depths of the earth, Claire has lived a similar story of abandonment to the abyss and resurrection. Her eyes light up as she speaks of entering back into the depths with a story of rescue for those who still dwell there.
Claire is a Chaplain for a girls’ detention center. Many of the girls there have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused. She adds that they come from a population that doesn’t know about story. They live in the moments of high drama to high drama, without plot and purpose and hope for movement and resolution. They don’t understand the world any other way. Some Christian groups have tried to go in and “minister” without understanding the generational mindset that has shaped these girls’ worldview and sense of self (and lack thereof). Without a grasp of story that can teach cause and effect, the building up of resources (such as education and savings) and rewards, the girls can’t follow a plan. The “ministers” truly mean well, but as is so often done in the church world, they seem to expect these girls to think as they do, and to be able to appropriate the same language of expression and meaning. The girls are often told of how their behaviors will send them straight to hell. Sin management has not worked well as a means of transformation or of bringing hope to the captives. They are already in hell, with no way out.
Claire has found the heart language. She recalled one young woman sitting across from her who said, “Well, aren’t you supposed to do something religious now?” Claire replied, “Talking to you is the most religious thing I do all week.” The girl didn’t quite know what to do with that. All she had known from religious folks were rules and measures and the reminder of being caught up in a system of life that she had little hope of moving beyond. But now, here was someone who believed that to sit with her was holy. Another woman told Claire, I believe you see me without these [prison] clothes on. You see me.
She speaks to them of forgiveness and the deeper, holy longings in their hearts that fuel so much of their surface behaviors. She blesses them. She is bringing them the Story, from which they can learn to have real life. I have a pastor friend who says that if you want to meet Jesus, go to hell. That is because He is there, preaching good news to the prisoners, calling them holy. In this particular hell, His name is Claire.