Monday, December 24, 2007

Have a good Christmas?

In prison yesterday morning. The service was a musical presentation by two women whose uncle was the last person to be executed in Swansea prison. He's buried in the prison and it's only in the last few years that, through the chaplain, their mother has been able to put flowers on her brother's grave. And finally lay him to rest in her mind after fifty years.

I played no role in the meeting; I was just there. But one of the prisoners gave me a Christmas kiss as I shook hands with them as they left. Knowing how strict the rules are about everything, I fully expected to be kept in prison! It's a different world with its own set of regulations. Not that I could have stopped him kissing me! At least we weren't in the segregated unit where the sex offenders are; in the chapel you just get the men who've stabbed their partners.

You know what it's like at this time of year: it's automatic to say, 'Have a good Christmas,' but how can you say that to someone in prison? I stuck to the old favourite, 'God bless you.' It's a pat saying but God's blessing can transform lives.

It was the same in Zac's on Tuesday.

On Thursday evening Zac's is the venue for a coffee bar for the homeless. Tuesday night was very cold and when I arrived there, several homeless men and women were collecting clean clothes or sleeping bags, and a few were tempted by the warmth to stay for the Bible study (and mince pies and hot drinks).

It was an eye-opener. I'd been thinking pretty well of myself for going to Zac's and blending in with those on the edge but I'd been fooling myself. Those who go to the Bible studies are on the edge and include addicts, ex-addicts, bikers, homeless, but fall off their edge and you'll land on a ledge that's a few steps from the sheer drop.

And that's when I was reminded of how meaningless a phrase can be. The homeless men were generous and wished me a good Christmas, and one said, 'May your angel go ahead of you.'
'You too.'