Mrs. LaVern West, a lovely woman in Cincinnati, has for several years helped me to send an annual letter of update to friends. I mentioned last week (“Angels We Have Heard on High“) that I wrote a Christmas letter to friends last year that never got mailed. I had slumped into a dismal Christmas depression last year – a reaction to loss upon loss. No doubt, you can relate. We’ve all been through it.
The days before Christmas are a busy time for most people. I asked a friend to suggest something I could write for a short Christmas post for These Stone Walls. She suggested that I post the Christmas letter I wrote last year and never mailed. I can’t think of anyone I would rather send this to than the readers of These Stone Walls. Here it is:
May grace and peace be with you. Your letters and prayers over the last year have sustained me in prison, and have been a gift that I cannot begin to repay.
I wish I had news of our ongoing effort to complete an investigation and legal review of my trial, but it’s a long, slow process that has kept me mostly in the dark. I’m told that it takes a good deal more evidence to get a man out of prison than to put one in.
This is my fifteenth Christmas in prison. I cannot pretend to make any sense of where I am or of how long I have been here. So many others have come and gone from this prison while I remain. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote that he was alone among his family to survive the horror of Auschwitz.
When a young prisoner came to Dr. Frankl in the throes of despair, he was cautioned not to “waste grace.” Dr. Frankl advised him that his days of suffering must be offered for the family he may never see again. It’s a difficult concept for someone on the wrong end of injustice, but the young man was transformed by that advice.
So was I. It does not save me from darkness, but it gives the darkness a meaning and purpose known only to God. I now end each day with a prayer:
Eternal Father, I offer to you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for my sins and the sins of this world. I offer You this day in prison, and whatever suffering I have endured this day, as a share in the suffering of Christ. I make this offering in spiritual support of (name).
If you are receiving this letter, then I have placed your name on my calendar to offer a day here for you. It is all I have to give as a gift.
Through the small barred window of my cell, I can see the high prison wall topped with row upon row of razor wire. It has been my view of the outside world for more than fourteen years. The view faces west. On this cold and gray December day, the sun is setting behind that wall, its final glimmer of light just now fading from view. I am reminded of my favorite prayer, a verse by the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman:
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent
Till the night is gone,
And with the morn those Angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
Many of the Christmas cards that now adorn my cell wall tell of a Light shining in the darkness. You have cast a light into the darkness and spiritual isolation of prison this year. It’s a light magnified ever so brightly, in my life and in yours, by Christ.
The darkness can never, ever, ever overcome it.