The banner headline at the Daily Office site I frequent reads: Frances J. Gaudet, Educator and Prison Reformer, 1934.
Prison reformer.... The week after The Feast of the Incarnation is usually festive --folks take time off from work, school, or travel to see family and friends and all the like. We still have another week to celebrate Christmas, Emmanuel, the mind-blowing and radical notion that God is not 'out there,' but is indeed With Us.
However, the liturgical calendar has been unrelenting this week: St. Stephen, Deacon & Martyr; St John the Evangelist; Holy Innocents; Thomas Becket.... --from being stoned to death, to the strange ecstasy of eagle vision, to the murder of innocents, to the betrayal of love and loyalty... and now, today, we are being asked to enter in to prayer and remember prison, prisoners and prison reform.
Unrelenting, indeed. My personal longing and desire to remember Christmas joy and the delight of Incarnate Love and Reconciliation seems drowned in blood... imprisoned in the remembering of our violent histories.
Is there not one day of just plain ordinary Christmas?
Frances J. Gaudet, Educator and Prison Reformer, 1934. Why? I googled the name. I half expected Frances to be a man... but she's a she --a prison reform worker and educator, was born in a log cabin in Holmesville, Mississippi of African American and Native American descent.
She has my sudden attention and respect. There are too many obstacles in her way before she even begins --in a world rampant with racism and gender bias. And yet, she persists. Pushing for help for juvenile offenders who also have the world of race and poverty built against them. Building schools. Helping prisoners of all stripes....
I have served as a volunteer chaplain at the Richmond City Jail. I enter the world of concrete and iron bars and am always humbled by the fervent prayer, the longing, the pain --the knowledge that even when one is released from the jail, the patterns of life that lead to 'the big house' are not so easily left behind. Families and neighborhoods reek with violence and poverty, and resources seem to be more liberally spent on incarceration rather than food, school, housing, job training... hope.
In this bundle of remembering the martyrs and the murdered, the coin suddenly flips. There is room here for joy, for rejoicing. Frances J. Gaudet, Educator and Prison Reformer, 1934. She took her own mortal and imperfect human flesh and worked to free the prisoner, to feed their souls and spirits with hope and love. Not with words, rhetoric or advocacy, but with her own life. Against all odds.
From the lectionary for the Eucharist (John 13:34-35)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
May we all find the ways to respond to the call to love. There is no better way to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation.
The Rev. Margaret Watson will soon be relocating from Richmond, Virginia to Eagle Butte, South Dakota to work on the Cheyenne River Episcopal Mission. She keeps a daily morning prayer blog at Leave It Lay Where Jesus Flang It.