Although I’ve been totally blind since the age of two months, I have been wonderfully blessed with light perception, and I’d like to think I don’t take this perception for granted: I love sunlight, especially when it’s glossy on the surface of a still lake, and I cherish the memories of the five times I’ve been able to see moonlight. Yet I fear that oftentimes I do take light for granted or fail to notice it. It doesn’t help me function; I can be doing various mundane tasks in the evening and realize hours later that I’ve forgotten to turn on the lights. This is a very sad realization for me–a hard one to swallow when I know I’ve been so graciously gifted with such perception. But I thank God for even-more-graciously providing times like this particular Tuesday–when the sun shines all day, but not until I’m within prison walls do I notice the Light of the World.
It was among the first days of true spring this year, and still I was in winter outerwear. The sun shone brightly, and I had a window seat in the van, but I looked the other way. Normally I liked going on these trips to take the focus off my usual endeavors, but presently I was having a difficult time doing so, despite the gorgeous day and the pleasant conversation. I couldn’t see past the shroud that other life-circumstances placed on my mind. The promise of prayer from fellow volunteers assured me of victory, but my rainy attitude prevailed for the time being. The more the trip wore on and I wasn’t letting myself enjoy it, the deeper my darkness.
When we finally arrived at the institution, you can imagine my relief when the chaplain informed me that I would be playing along with the house band; I was in no position to come up with a forty-minute set on-the-fly. More important than that relief, however, was the joy of making music with inmates and playing the songs they themselves wanted to sing. That is personally my favourite part of prison-evangelism because more often than not, I’m the one who gets ministered to in those cases. Well, this night was no exception, and that joy was finally enough to lift my mental cloud. When Brent concluded the teaching, I sang a pertinent song from Steven Curtis Chapman: “If we walk in the light, then our path will be bright, I know” (“Walk with the Wise,” found on “The Great Adventure,” 1992). I was sure I was walking in the light, but was my path bright? The answer, shouted by the setting itself, was a resounding yes. The room began to glisten with steady interaction among inmates, chaplains and volunteers alike, as we shared additional insights and testimonials. I could see the glow for myself, and I was content. Before I could get too comfortable, however, one testimony grew particularly lengthy and seemed to stray from the topic at hand. I could feel the fog returning to my soul, so I immediately chided myself with the notion that this is what we’re here for–to listen to their stories. Then, as his tale drew to a victorious climax, a light burst on in my spirit that was much brighter than my shroud had ever been dark–and I knew: My path WAS bright, precisely because I was walking with people who have walked in darkness and so “have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV). Prison evangelism has often revealed to me, as it did that night, that the light seen behind bars can be very great indeed, because of the stark contrast between the darkness of their lives and the light of Christ. There aren’t so many grey areas: When they see the light, they belt out the old song, as they did to close off the service: “Praise the Lord! I saw the light!”
We were too late heading back home to catch the sunset, but when we reached the city where we were to stop for coffee, I actually looked out the van window–and observed the lights.