In December, I performed as St. Paul for a group of inmates at a local maximum security prison (see previous post, “St. Paul Visits Prison”). For my wife and me, this experience continues to reverberate in our hearts. Maeve will share some thoughts after my remarks. As for me, I continue to reflect on the power of God’s Word, especially in the person and writings of the Great Apostle.
I’ve been frequently asked, “Do you intend to do performances of other saints?” My answer remains the same. I want to present Paul, and him alone because of his importance and his unique role in the history of Christianity. Moreover, I’ve seen firsthand the fires that he can set in the hearts of people. He, who “sets my life on fire,” can do the same for anyone open to the Truth.
When I stood in front of those sixty inmates with their eyes fixed on me, saying “Amen” at Paul’s proclamations, I understood afresh what happened that day in Nazareth, when Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah;
“’The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me; he has sent me to….proclaim liberty to captives…. and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord’’”
Jesus is certainly not speaking only of people locked behind bars, when he uses words like “captives” and “prisoners.” He most certainly is speaking to everyone. He means these words for you and me.
All right…maybe not you. Allow me then, to speak for myself.
When I find myself thinking the same useless and worrisome thoughts, I’m a captive. When I speak words that criticize or demean others, I’m a prisoner. When some activity or substance has me in its grip and I’m powerless to stop, then I am “behind bars.” When my anger erupts and I hurt others, then I’m “locked up.” When I fail to say what’s needed or shrink from standing up for the truth because of what it may cost me…. I might as well be in a maximum security facility.
The apostle Paul was in prison with his companion, Silas (see Acts Ch. 16). They had been beaten senseless by an unruly mob and were awaiting trial. After joyfully singing hymns of praise despite their sufferings, an earthquake rocked the jail and they were set free. This demonstrated their great faith and incredible resignation in the face of such misery. It was their choice to demonstrate their trust in God, a Father who rattles the foundations of the earth when He chooses!
Faith sets prisoners free! This is the Gospel truth that Paul understood to the marrow of his bones;
“It is for freedom that Christ Jesus has set us free. So don’t do anything that leads you back into captivity.” – Galatians 5:1
Oh, sinner that is me… understand. Believe. Discover what true freedom is…
…as you praise Jesus Christ, who alone “sets the captives free!”
As Glenn mentioned, I was also very moved by the inmates’ reactions to “A Visit with St. Paul” in December. They leaned forward on their seats with rapt attention and several recited St. Paul’s words along with Glenn as he performed. And they were as polite and welcoming as any other audience – maybe moreso. They truly appreciated us being there.
When Glenn and I said “yes” to God’s calling us to go full-time with the St. Paul performance, we didn’t know the places it would take us. Glenn left his job of caring for the developmentally disabled at a state agency and we lost our health insurance and the stability of a state job. But the rewards are becoming increasingly evident. By going to prison, we have been touched by these men and are grateful to touch their lives, too.
People laugh at me when I tell them that we spent years trying to “get into prison,” but it’s true. We had been praying for Glenn to perform in prison for the past five years.
In December, we arrived at prison several hours before the performance. We chatted with the kind chaplain and perused her bookshelves. Glenn is an avid Shakespeare fan so he pulled out a book, Shakespeare Saved My Life (published by Sourcebooks). I was an English major in college but rarely appreciated Shakespeare. The chaplain reported that some men have enjoyed the book.
Subsequently, I obtained a copy; it’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read! And it might just cause me to go back and read Shakespeare. Written by English professor, Laura Bates, she tells of teaching Shakespeare classes to prisoners in solitary confinement and the general prison population in Indiana. She weaves the story around the successes and hardships of inmate, Larry Newton.
We learn how reading Shakespeare helps Newton to question his motives and assumptions and eventually, leads him to internal freedom and peace. In turn, he helps other inmates to do the same thing. He even helps Dr. Bates question what “prisons” she lives in.
Glenn does the same thing when he portrays St. Paul. I’ve seen my husband perform as Paul about sixty times and I continue to question what “prisons” I’m in. Thus, I turn my fear, shame, anger, or pettiness over to Jesus, the one who can truly set me and you free!
Just as it did for Paul and Silas while in prison, I find that “praise sets the prisoner free” and that at the moments when I’m feeling most unhappy, angry, anxious, or lost, praising Jesus restores my peace.
We pray that Jesus will set you free from any prison in which you find yourself…
…and you might just become a Shakespeare fan in the process.