Stephen has told me your present situation has you asking some questions about God and religion. As more time passes for you in there, I can appreciate how the burden on your shoulders must seem to be getting heavier and maybe even too much to bear. Stephen told me you have decided that you want to be “for God,” but that you’re feeling some uncertainty and confusion about what this could mean for you—that maybe your time in jail could become more difficult than if you were to fall in with the criminals and toughs who surround you there.
I have been thinking about this for a few days and I want to offer you some advice for whatever it’s worth—but I’ll leave that judgment up to you. (Believe me, I make no claims to having a corner on the truth and I have always avoided telling anyone else what to believe. Every person ultimately must figure that out for themselves.)
A lot of people in the religion “business” make a regular practice of telling people what to believe. Stephen tells me that a different pastor, priest, etc. visits your jail every week, and you’re probably hearing a certain number of “my-way-or-the-highway” sermons from time to time. Being exposed to the competing beliefs of different religions and sects can be confusing if you haven’t already developed a core sense of what feels true to you.
Also, it is a favored tactic of missionaries to instill an element of fear in their messages—“If you don’t do such-and-such, you’ll burn in hell forever.” Well, my first piece of advice is to not make this (or any other) decision out of fear. When your mind is gripped by fear your thinking can be too easily muddled. God wants the best of everything from you. He wants your best thinking and your clearest decisions, not blind obedience. Decide for yourself when you’re ready to decide.
You may be thinking that being “for God” might make you more vulnerable in a place that is filled with so many evil, twisted people. I will address this a little later in this letter, but I will tell you right now that this is a false fear. So please read on and I will explain.
One of the things you’re already discovering in jail is that a lot of people will try to get you to doubt yourself. They want to weaken you and shake your resolve to be the best “you” that you can be. You have already experienced the jealousy of some inmates because you have been selected as a trustee to perform certain duties and receive some privileges in return. Through threats and tricks they have tried to get you to make mistakes that might result in your removal as a trustee. You know what I’m talking about.
Other inmates and even some guards will call you a “rapist” (even though you know this isn’t true) and use this label to try and discredit everything about you. You must never allow these people to gain power over you by allowing their threats, tricks, and taunts to undermine your strength and self-confidence.
One of the most important things about surviving jail or prison is learning to detach and live in your own private internal world. In this internal world you can be a free person, even as a prisoner. In this internal world, you can be sane, even if you are surrounded by crazy people. In this internal world you can find peace, even if events around you are flying apart.
Be strong. Never let down your guard. Rely on only yourself and your own judgments and—here is the most important thing—trust no one but God. If you truly are “for God,” God will never give you more than you are able to handle. If you are with God, you have nothing to fear.
If you go running to the guards for protection (or worse yet, if you become a snitch), you will be hated by your fellow inmates and they will try to harm you any way they can. If you go running to your fellow inmates for protection (or worse yet, align yourself with a gang) you will run afoul of the guards. You must learn to walk a middle path, remaining self-contained and independent, always complying with what the guards tell you to do and always getting along with the inmates, but never creating friction between either camp or getting into conflict with anybody. You must never allow any of the “ick” of that place to rub off on you—no aggression or violence, nothing ever hateful or hurtful to others.
Now here is a question that is probably occurring to you right now (it certainly is a question I’d be asking if I were in your place): How can you find God in such an awful, hellish place such as jail?
The answer is very simple (but it will take some experimentation to prove to yourself that this is true): God is inside of you. If you can learn to still your mind, to BE AWARE and JUST LISTEN, you will discover that God is talking to you all the time. You don’t need anyone else to tell you what God wants you to know, think, or do. God is all-knowing and all-present and is already speaking to you from deep inside of you. God’s station is broadcasting all the time. You must learn to tune yourself, like a radio, to pick up His station. All you need to do is sit quietly, be patient, still your mind, and LISTEN. You will receive inspiration and divine guidance that you can rely on.
Some people call this meditation. Others call it prayer. I call it Quiet Time, and I practice it every day when I am writing. There is nothing difficult about it. There is nothing paranormal about it. You can do it yourself without any special qualifications or training. The main thing is getting your ego—your unquiet mind—out of the way.
Here, based on the teachings of Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in England, is an easy 3-step method for doing this:
Step 1: Find a posture that best supports your intention to be aware and awake, perhaps sitting with a straight back, but not rigid or stiff. Let your shoulders drop, and close your eyes if you find that comfortable, or set your gaze on something that helps you to settle down and relax. And then when you’re ready, notice what’s going on with you right now—any thoughts, feelings, or emotions—tune in and notice what your internal “weather patterns” are. Continue doing this and being open to this for a few moments. Letting go of the tendency to want things to be different from what they are, see if it’s possible to simply accept your internal “weather” just as it is.
Step 2: Focus your attention on your breath—right down in your abdomen as you breathe in and breathe out—and, not trying to make the breath do anything special or be different from how you find it, just focus on the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. If your mind wanders at any time, just acknowledge where it went and then, very gently, escort your attention back to the breath and to the sensations of breathing.
Step 3: Expand your attention to the body as a whole, as if the whole body could breathe right now. Be aware of all the sensations in the body from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet, from the surface of your skin to the inside of your body. Be aware of the “whole landscape” of bodily sensations. See if it’s possible to allow the sensations to be exactly as you find them, not trying to change them in any way. Be open to what’s present, accept yourself as you are. Self-acceptance is the key. You’re fine just the way you are. At this point you should be sufficiently relaxed and aware so that you will be able to “hear” the quiet “voice” that will come.
Now, here is a 4th step, based on the practices of the Oxford Group (an amazing movement of young people in the 1920s that discovered that every individual can receive directly from God infallible Divine Guidance that, if followed, can change one’s life and the life of the world around us): Write down whatever thoughts come into your head. While you’re writing, do not think about, edit, or change anything that comes. Just write everything that comes to you and ponder the interpretations and meanings later.
How will you know that whatever comes is the voice of God, and not just some kind of wishful thinking you yourself are making up or inserting into the meditation? Well, for one thing you will notice that many of these messages will lead to creative, even brilliant, insights. You will also notice that many coincidences will emerge. And, at a very deep level, you will just know that these messages are coming from outside of you—that you are only a radio receiving a signal.
James, you must never underestimate the power of your mind/body as a radio receiver. You have already experienced this power. Do you remember the time when you were in court and the prosecutor came near you, and you felt that black, icy-cold sensation? Your body was picking up on her evil thoughts and intentions. You were feeling her hate. You weren’t making that up. It was real.
Remember what that was like. You can put that same power to work, every day, to experience God’s love and know His plan for you. You can bank on what your mind/body tells you. God will never steer you wrong. Where God guides, He provides. In time you will discover that you are under God’s protection, and that you are safe and need not be fearful. (Yet this is not to say that you should ever take reckless or foolish risks! Think carefully and stay safe.)
Earlier in this letter I asked the question, “How can you find God in jail where you are surrounded and threatened by so many evil, twisted people?” The first place, as I’ve said, is to look deep inside of you. God is there. But the second place to look is in other people—even the scary ones. Even though they themselves may not know it, God is inside of them just as He is in you.
Look for the God-ness, the goodness, in others (even those in jail) and roughly half the time other people will respond positively to the God-ness in you. Don’t forget that Christ spent his last hours of life on earth crucified between two criminals. The story as it is told says that one of these criminals rejected what Christ had to tell him; the other accepted Christ’s word and was assured by Jesus that he would make it to heaven that same day.
I decided that I wanted to say these things to you in an open letter because I want the readers of this blog to have an opportunity to add their two cents in the comments section. (When we print out this letter for mailing to you, we will print out their comments too.) James, every time I become discouraged and begin to fear that God has abandoned the world, some reader or another always reaches out or steps forward to help in such ways that convince me that God is present through them.
God has not forgotten you and will never abandon you. God is present in your jail. You just have to look for Him. God is present in you. You just have to listen for Him. You are not alone.
Groove of the Day