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A Conversion... and A Call to Serve
Dear Sisters and Brothers of Contemplative Outreach,
This letter is my response to questions that were asked at our Centering Prayer circle [in prison]:
- What can we say about the experience of inmates in learning and practicing this method?
- What do we think is important for the wider organization to understand about this perspective?
What can we say about the experience of inmates in learning and practicing this method?
I have spent a lot of time in prayer and reflection with these questions. The following is the fruit of my labors. I pray that through my words you will find insight and perspective, and that we may come into unity in the Holy Spirit as we sit together at the feet of the Lord Jesus.
After careful thought, I’ve decided that the testimony of my conversion is the best explanation of my experiences with Centering Prayer. My life as a believer is inextricably tied to this discipline, and it was critical—is critical—to my formation as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I spent most of my adult life practicing the occult. What led me to this is beyond the scope of this discourse; sufficient to say, I was a broken and cynical man. I discounted Christianity because of the seeming flatness of its spiritual dimension. I was a person who had tangible experiences of the spiritual; no “Christian” seemed to have any sense of this unseen yet real world.
All of this changed when I encountered one of the Catholic volunteers at my facility. It’s hard to describe the significance of this encounter, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I was given the grace to directly experience her relationship with Christ. It was utterly transcendent.
This volunteer became a beacon and guide for me, a city set upon a hill, leading me out of the wilderness. Through her witness, the Lord drew me to Himself, cleansing the wounds of my sins with the fire of His love. Only months after our initial encounter, I gave my life and heart to Jesus. Later that same year (2012), the same volunteer started practicing Centering Prayer and, shortly thereafter, introduced it to a group of us in the Faith-Based Program. I practiced Centering Prayer alone for the next several years. At the beginning of 2017, a Centering Prayer circle was founded here. We’ve met nearly every week since, and the fruit of this corporate practice has been immeasurable.
What can I say about my experience with Centering Prayer? To begin, Centering Prayer has changed the way I view and understand the world; it has divorced me from relying upon experience. Experience, the information given by our senses and the thoughts and emotions that result from this information, as well as the previous events of life contained in our memories and our projections about the future – all of this is finite. Centering Prayer has given me the mental space to stop doing and to start being. Who I am in truth has almost nothing to do with my ideas of who I believe myself to be. This is equally true about God, my fellow brothers and sisters in the human family, and my incarceration.
I have become symbiotically connected to the world by the Spirit of God. I am transcendently aware of my unity with all living things, with God, and with you. This statement is the closest I can come to describing where Centering Prayer has brought me.
What do we think is important for the wider organization to understand about this perspective?
I stress to you, more than anything else, that I owe my life and growth as a believer to another person’s ministry. The thought of my life absent that volunteer’s influence causes me to shudder. Re-read my testimony: Can you see it now? Do you understand the absolutely critical importance of your presence and testimony to us? Through you and in you, PEOPLE ENCOUNTER THE LORD. What more can be said?
Materials are secondary to your presence. The greatest thing that Contemplative Outreach could do to help support Centering Prayer in prisons would be for each member to pick a local prison and go inside, starting a Centering Prayer circle. Talking about unity is easy; talk is cheap. If you want to prove to wounded men and women the reality of our unity in Christ, you have to personally invest.
Besides, it isn’t as if the relationship between inmates and visitors is one-sided. Spend some time with Matthew 25:31-46. It’s true that when you come into prison, we see the light and the love of Jesus in you. But consider that when you come inside, you also have an encounter with the Lord in us.
Our perspective is unique. Chains can have a strange effect on a person. Some of us use our chains as a license to do terrible things to others. But for some, the chains upon our bodies act as keys that have freed us from mental bondage. I am truly free, immune to the poisons and distractions of this world. The Lord has used prison to sift me and leave me empty in the most wonderful way.
This perspective is our greatest gift to the outside world. We are men and women with both the time to seek God and good reason to surrender to His will. We possess valuable insight, drawn from the darkness of our experiences. All we lack is someone to bless with this perspective. The heart of Centering Prayer is consent to the presence and action of God within us. We belong to each other in and by this consent, as we lay down our lives for one another. This consent slowly transforms us, remaking us into the image of Jesus. The person who so profoundly influenced me volunteered to be led into prison – dying to self that we might live.
So, brethren, I implore you: Reach out and begin a Centering Prayer circle. The impact that you will have is beyond my ability to describe. I hope that this letter has encouraged you, and perhaps opened your eyes to the truth of what kind of ministry is waiting for you inside. I am with you in the silence of His presence, and we are one in His love.
Yours in Christ,
Richard Fudge #T66948
Graceville Correctional Facility
5168 Ezell Rd
Graceville, FL 32440