Dec 16, 2017

by Lee A. Schott, Pastor at Women at the Well UMC, at Mitchellville, Iowa

When our inside council meets, a couple of times a month, we open with a question that allows us to hear the voice of every member. These ten or fifteen women are the resident leaders of Women at the Well, the prison congregation at the women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa. 

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, “What are you thankful for?” seemed too predictable for our opening. So I asked our leaders to name some things they wished they were giving thanks for, things they would be giving thanks for if things were as they should be.  They quickly caught the spirit of this question. “You want our wishful thankfuls,” one of them said, fittingly. I asked each one to name three of these:  one for themselves; one for someone they love; and one for the prison, the community, nation or world.

The personal “wishful thankfuls” were as you’d expect. Some mentioned being thankful for the parole that, in the world as it is, was denied earlier this year, or release dates that were supposed to have come by now.  One said she’d like to be thankful for regular visits with her children that should have started months ago, had that request not been hung up with technicalities and overworked DHS (Department of Human Services) staff. 

The responses concerning our loved ones also flowed easily, focusing on the health and well-being of parents, children, husbands, siblings and friends.  There were wishful thanksgivings for those loved ones’ recovery from addiction and for mental health, along with repaired relationships and safety.

I thought the women might have to dig harder for the “wishful thankfuls” that went beyond their own lives.  They didn’t.  As they spoke their answers, I was reminded of the wisdom and compassion that reside within this group of women.  Each one, it seemed, has a sense of things that need to be better out there around them, things they long to be able to give thanks for. 

Those things ranged from prison rules to immigration policy. They included international issues like peace with North Korea, and news items from mass shootings to racism to the #MeToo movement.  I heard engagement with far-ranging questions, and a deep longing for things to be different, and better. 

Toward the end of this time as we went around the circle, a woman I’ll call Sierra—one of our youngest members—talked about love.  “We need to love each other better,” she said.  “I think we need…,” and she paused to grope for words.  “I want to be thankful for a…reLOVolution!”  We smiled and nodded, around the table.  “What a great word,” someone said. “Let’s have that!” said another.

Amen to that!  We prison congregations are already making a start, I think. But Sierra’s vision made me wonder:  How will the things we know start a reLOVolution—a revolution powered by and centered on love—not just in prison, but in our communities and churches, our nation and the world?  How might we dare to imagine that happening, in and around and through us? 

It was a good question for Thanksgiving. It turns out to be a worthy reflection for Advent as well. I’m longing in this season for a reLOVolution.  Will you join me?

Category: love

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