Play Your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card

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The account of Christ’s transfiguration, which we contemplate this Sunday, is also about our own transfiguration. Lent is a golden opportunity to find and ignite that divine spark imprisoned in our soul and share its light with the world.

This may explain why some people are drawn to prison ministry. Visiting people in solitary confinement can offer a two-way revelation, and it doesn’t even have to involve a traditional prison cell. As author, journalist and faith columnist Terry Pluto told me recently, prison ministry is more about the prison of our earthly circumstances than it is about just a room with bars.

“You have an audience that’s interested in your message because they’re hurting and locked down,” he said. “You don’t have to be the pope or Billy Graham. You just have to show up with a decent attitude and let the Holy Spirit lead you. When people don’t have much, the little you bring them means a lot.”

Life’s hard times—whether those of other people or our own—can be stop signs God puts up to help us look at what’s going on in our lives, Pluto added.

“We’re all in chains for a variety of reasons, whether we’re in prison, assisted living or a hospital bed. In those situations you’re stripped down and it’s not as easy to con yourself that everything’s ok. In that way, Lent is like Yom Kippur for the Jewish people because it takes us away from the distractions of this world.”

Where this Sunday’s readings are concerned, Lent can be seen as God’s sculpting us out of the world imprisoning us to reveal our Creator’s spirit within us. It’s not unlike the transfiguration that momentarily freed Jesus’s spirit from its imprisonment in human flesh to reveal the voice of the Father we have in common with him (Lk 9:28b-36):

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

But it’s hard to listen to that voice amidst this world’s noise. Lent offers the chance to contemplate our role in God’s revelations. The first reading from Genesis offers us Abram as a role model (Gn 15:5-12, 17-18). It tells us how God revealed to Abram the Abraham imprisoned within him. Abram means “exalted father,” but according to the covenant God offered, his name on its bottom line would become Abraham—“father of a multitude.” Thus begins that revelation:

The Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

Faith is the tool God gives us to break free from our world’s solitary confinements and find our place amidst that multitude. As Paul tells us in Sunday’s second reading from his letter to the Philippians (Phil 3:17—4:1), God invites us to escape the clutches of a world whose god is the human stomach and whose eyes confuse the shame of our imprisonment with glory:

Our citizenship is in heaven, Paul writes, and we await the savior who will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.

So, bottom line, Christ’s transfiguration is our own. It begins with God handing us the keys to faith so we can free the Holy Spirit imprisoned within us and minister to fellow prisoners seeking freedom from this world’s chains.

–Tom Andel

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