Wednesday, April 9, 2008

the lost, the lonely and the last

God is either everything or else God is nothing.
What is my choice to be?

I can see how people might use examples of tragedy and bad luck in their lives to explain away the existence of God. How can there be an All Loving Supreme Being in a world that allows children to waste away in sickness? How can God be present when there is war and poverty bringing with them the stench of death and the promise of horror? Atrocities could be listed ad infinitum...

I have decided to take a very radical step. A leap of faith.
I have decided for myself that God is everything and that God is good.

Yesterday I went to Rikers Island and brought two people with me to carry a message of recovery to inmates there. A message of possibility. A message of hope.

Rikers Island is not a prison it is a jail, a holding pen for people who are awaiting trial or sentencing or waiting to be sent away to do a longer bid upstate in a penitentiary. It is the largest of New York City's jail facilities as well as the name of the 413.17 acre island on which it sits in the East River between Queens and The Bronx. Although it is not a long term facility people can stay there for months. Waiting.

Rikers Island is a very scary place. Arriving at the first security checkpoint, having driven through a quiet industrial area of queens, we saw the highly guarded island. Every long shadowed surface covered with multiple layers of razor wire. We drove slowly over the 4,200 foot bridge that is the only access to the facility. We spotted guards with sniper rifles on boats and on docks set up around the island. It looked like a maze of wire fencing all crowned with nests of razor wire. Within close site of LaGuardia Airport and the non stop sound of jets taking off and landing. We arrived on the island. We got out of the car with an orange sun hanging low in a grey sky and the glitter of black water and of long unwinding spirals of silver razor wire.

Once on the island we went through several security checkpoints. At the first we explained where we were going and why, showed our ID, they checked that our security clearance had been called in and gave us passes to the specific building where we were going. Rikers has ten separate jails on it. Once we had those passes we continued through to the other side of the building where we waited for a shuttle bus to take us to our destination. At that specific facility there is another security checkpoint. The guard found our clearance in a stack of papers and we checked our ID and personal belongings. We were allowed to keep our wallets but cellphones are forbidden. We were given yet another pass which we attached to our clothes in plain view and then we waited for an escort. It is a time consuming process.

We waited inside a continuous cacophony of airplane engines and hard, heavy, iron gates slamming shut. Locking. Clicking open. Slamming shut. Locking. It's an old facility. All metal, cement and dust.

We were led to the chapel. A room with rows of wooden pews and boxes of King James bibles stacked against the back wall.

We laid out the literature we had brought with us on a table at the side of the room and it was announced in different areas of the building that we were there.

It took some time but twenty men entered the room single file. Five of the men were joking and restless and left rather quickly but the ones who remained sat quietly. Respectfully. Eager. Sad. Wounded. Desperate. Lost. Lonely. Last.

I spoke, my friends spoke. Inquisitive, broken eyes searched us at the front of the room. The curve of these men's shoulders said it's too late. But the quiet, upturned faces whispered maybe. Those men were just like my friends. They were just like me. They were my brothers. They were me.

Something happened. An invisible blanket covered us. Held us. In the hard, grey coldness of that lonesome and unlikely place something happened. Something real that we all shared. It was the evidence of Something unseen. Possibility. Hope.

The men took the literature we'd brought for them. They said "Thank you. Please come again. We need your message here. God bless you."
We might have been leaving a church picnic.

God is everything or else God is nothing.

I have decided to take that very radical step. That leap of faith.
I have decided for myself that God is everything and that God is good.
All the time.

I don't know what God has in store for me but I continue to walk towards it and I thank Him for it. I am placing the outcome in God's hands with boundless confidence.

I have come to believe.
Through hard times I have been protected.
I am protected. Cared for. Carried.

I can't make sense of the horrors of the world.
I do, however, have a personal experience.

I have been brought from there to here and I am better for it.

1 comment:

Rev. David Lewicki said...

The image of the blanket is rich. So is the description of the look and feel of Riker's, where I've been only once. So is the description of the shoulders and the faces of the men who sat with you.

Good stuff, friend.