Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas in Jail!

Last evening Linda and I, and many of my friends from St. Marty's Painesville (Dan and Kathy Philipps and their daughter Alyssa; Kathy Flora; Mary Ann Ratchko-Gamez and her husband Feliciano, and several others) spent the evening "con-celebrating" a Christmas program for inmates of the Lake County Jail. Mary Ann brought her flute and Irish whistles and was accompanied by Alex on keyboard and her husband Feliciano on guitar. There were about 6 or so singers, some I recognized and some I didn't know, including a St. Mary's woman (Allison?) who sang a beautiful solo. There were also representatives from a number of other religious communities, St. Noel's, St. Gabe's, St. Anthony's, Kirtland Unitarian Universalist, a Leroy congregation, and several other Protestant congregations. Fr. Mark Riley of St. Mary's took the lead role (but involved everyone).

Lake County Jail (summer photo)

The sessions began as the prisoners ushered in. In the first session (of three), there might have been 30 to 50 women, mostly young, overwhelmingly white. They looked like our daughters, sisters, neighbors. They looked like us (and that really made us think!). We began singing together some popular (and maybe a bit corny) Christmas songs, but the inmates loved it! They particularly got into "Frosty the Snowman," thumping the floor and sitting pads vigorously when the time came. We moved into some more religious carols, led off by "O Holy Night" by our soloist. It was spectacular. Then we sang together several songs, including "Silent Night," one verse sung in Spanish. My favorite was the song "Peace Child." I will try to find a Youtube version of this song and post it later.

Part of the evening involved each of us bringing strips of cloth to a rough wooden manger, to make a comfortable bed for the Baby Jesus. It was moving to see some of the tough men do this. Father Mark asked us to put our hands over our hearts, and to prepare room in our hearts for grace, for the newborn Jesus. We did that--we made room. Father Mark said, "This visit to you is the most important thing I will do this Christmas." It was true for him, and true for all of us!

At certain points, some of the inmates began to cry--at the beauty of the music, at the touching scene making the rough crib comfortable for the baby Jesus, for the heartbreak of being in jail on Christmas.

Believe me, we were as moved and as grateful as the prisoners. We came to do a Work of Mercy, visiting those in prison (as Jesus once was!). What was amazing is how we felt the prisoners had done something for us!

P.S. The final song of every session, after the solemn hymns, was a vibrant version of "Feliz Navidad," led by Feliciano Gamez on guitar. It was so joyful that many of the women and men began dancing to the tune. It was a wonderful way to end the evening.

The Indigo Girls sing "Peace Child":

Lyrics to "Peace Child"

Peace Child,
in the sleep of the night,
in the dark before light
you come,
in the silence of stars,
in the violence of wars--
Savior, your name.
Peace Child,
to the road and the storm,
to the gun and the bomb
you come,
through the hate and the hurt,
through the hunger and dirt--
bearing a dream.
Peace Child,
to our dark and our sleep,
to the conflict we reap,
now come--
be your dream born alive,
held in hope, wrapped in love:
God's true shalom.

Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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