Advent was one of my favorite times of the year while incarcerated at San Quentin.
Those of us inside recognized that we were — and are — sinful, falling short of who God created us to be. Our daily lives were constant reminders of the harm we had committed, along with the guilt and shame that we carried.
While surrounded by the prison’s despair and darkness, our community in Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Chapel was a great reminder of the hope many of us had that we would one day be forgiven and granted mercy.
For some, that hope was for freedom from the walls that incarcerated us — especially for those who did not know if or when they would be freed. For those of us in this “free” world today, a similar hope might be for freedom from the confines of the current pandemic, from familial or social dysfunction, from economic insecurity, discrimination, racism, or fear.
For most of us, regardless of where we are living, we should be longing for a freedom from the guilt of our daily shortcomings; the quickest way to get there is through accountability, facing our past, and preparing for the opportunities in front of us.
Advent is about preparation for the future. When you don’t know what that future will hold, you have a choice between wallowing in your circumstances or recognizing the opportunities.
The community we created inside San Quentin gave us ways to support one another and lift each other up in our daily walk of faith. All of us should be searching for ways to create that community wherever we now find ourselves.
While the current pandemic makes it hard to build a physical community, we still need to be looking for ways to survive our current circumstances and prepare for the community we desire to have when we return to whatever the “new normal” will be. We should be preparing — not for a parole hearing, but for the gifts of redemption, healing, and love.
If nothing else, this year should be a reminder “to be on the watch!” (Mark 13:34). None of us knows when our time on this earth will end; let us not waste the time until then on division, judgment, and hate. Let us instead build one another up for the relationships and the communities we were created to sustain and nurture.
We need to be using this time of isolation to recognize that we and our neighbors, regardless of any divisions, are the clay within our Potter’s hands. Each of us is molded to be a gift to those around us. Let us hold and support one another with care so as not to shatter the Potter’s creation.
Let us prepare ourselves to be ready for the gifts that await us; let us do this by lifting ourselves and those around us to be who we were created to be. Let us celebrate and recognize how much easier it is to prepare when we know those gifts are our redemption and our healing!
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