Martha’s Feb. 17 Reflection, Ash Wednesday

February 17th, 2021

Ash Wednesday
Women’s Federal Prison Camp

Father Iwaji came to the camp this morning for Mass. The crucifix, chalice, and candlesticks were a sight for sore eyes. Seeing the white altar cloth and purple vestments after weeks of institutional grey and beige, along with unpainted concrete and razor wire, was a rich treat.

Of course the beginning of Lent is about abstinence and self-transformation, but the wine-dipped host tasted like a feast. The priest reflected on Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6: 1-6 and 16-18, urging us not to make a public spectacle when performing the pillars of alms-giving, prayer and fasting.

The priest also admonished us, in our prison setting, for our sins that brought us here. He said that penance is required of us.

My ego-centered perceptions immediately took umbrage at this in light of protesting nuclear weapons.

A Romanian attorney who was raised Greek Orthodox now teaches us in a class called “Positive Thinking.”

I failed in this practice before 7:30 this morning as I was waiting in line for breakfast. I walked off before receiving food because I didn’t want to listen to the C.O. chastising us for there not being an organized food crew to serve, that another C.O. was supposed to set up.

Today should be a day of fasting on top of it all.

Prison is a perfect setting in which to learn how to practice love and positive thinking, creating positive energy. Joel 2:12: “Return to me with your whole heart.” “Rend your hearts, not your garments.”

What does this look like in daily practice? I’m forced to discern this question over and over, throughout the day. And for the rest of my life, no matter where I find myself.
Transformation requires a different way of thinking, without pursuing resistance, attachment, judgementalism.

My teacher here says guilt is a negative energy and religion tends to use it as a means of controlling people’s behavior.

Does a Plowshares action create more negative energy than positive?

Dear readers, my apologies for carrying you along with me on this torturous discernment process.

The letters of gratitude from you for this action are deeply affirming, and yet…I am not who the world may think I am, all evil, or all good.

We tend toward thinking in dichotomous ways. In Matthew 6: 1-6, Jesus tells us “do not blow a trumpet before you” in the practice of performing righteous deeds.

My mind goes to all the long time Catholic Workers in the houses of hospitality, cooking, cleaning, serving food all their days for many years. They are the mothers of the many.

The daily reading of one’s hurt is to see, feel, entering into the suffering of those around us, those we choose to be with as we strive to see Christ in their distorted yet beautiful faces.

It is all in our perception. What we see before us is based on what is in our hearts and minds.

“Those who fast for God’s sake receive beauty of face.”

Perhaps those who love for God’s sake receive beauty of heart, reflecting it back onto the world.

When we fasted and prayed in Washington, D.C. with “Witness Against Torture” calling for the release of prisoners in Guantanamo, the faces of fasters became more beautiful each day. More lean, radiant, calm, yet beseeching.

One of the women here who arrived a month ago with a twenty four month sentence received notice that she will be released to home confinement in two days. Such joyful and unexpected news. She was sent into confusion and gratitude in a flash. Others responded with happiness for her, while some felt fear and resentment regarding their own cases.

The process for how cases are handled is never clear or easily understood. A persistent element of arbitrariness leaves people feeling off balance and unfairly treated.

In our small lectio group the question often arises: how does God come into the picture as one’s life unfolds?

The woman to be released was part of our prayer group. We all said, “This is a miracle!”

Of course my mind then went to my case. I have served four out of ten months so far. An unresolved charge relating to the protest of drones at Hancock Air Base in Syracuse, NY, keeps me here.

Do I patiently serve my time or make efforts for home confinement? After serving five months here as an elderly inmate, I am eligible for mid-May release but not with this outstanding case. Otherwise it is a late August release. We will see what the DeWitt court judge has in his heart in this time of COVID.

Our Georgia judge was content to send us in to jail despite the pandemic.

It is all an exercise in patience, positive thinking, and prayerful reflection

Someone reminded me that God will spare us all as long as there are 10 good souls praying to save the world. This surely must be the case concerning our avoidance of nuclear holocaust over the last 75 years.

A recent meditation that has caught my attention is a discussion in the Abingdon “Interpreter’s Bible” series. Christian service is very acceptable in two forms, both involving sacrifice: that of Thanksgiving and of sharing.

The three readings recommended for study are Hebrews 13: 15-16, Romans 12: 1-2, and James 1:27. In Hebrews we read: “do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Christ’s passion was his access to God. We must settle, in our human limitations, for praising and giving thanks as opposed to plundering one another.

We are unprofitable servants, and yet we continue to receive the gift of Divine love.

James 1 warns against holding religious ceremony as more important than compassionate caring for others. Beware of worldly pressures that seduce us into denying mercy and love.

The “stains” of our failure to love are what made the Crucifixion possible:

“Cooperative guilt with limited liability, cowardice in our leaders, dishonest clerics, traitor disciples, a thoughtless mob, and callous executioners.!” These conditions sound all too familiar and applicable in our own times.

The reading from Romans warns against conforming to the worldly influences that grind down our capacity to discern good and evil. A slippery slope. To transform is to hold on to our capacity to use practical reason and moral consciousness and see what is proper service.

The world watches an entire country, Yemen, being starved and bombed.

Will we save ourselves without gratitude and sharing? It looks grim.

I have too much time on my hands to contemplate the history, the writings, and the dynamics of prison life. Feeding chickens, caring for young children, cooking a big pot of soup for others seems so much more feasible and attractive.

Doctrine must come with a connection to our emotions and self-will.

The visible signs of life are so vibrant, how can we deny them!

A small bag was found on the staircase as everyone walked to the chow line; inside a dildo, contraband of course. Abstinence during Lent is not for everyone.

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