All the world waits in December darkness for a glimpse of the Light of Christmas. Behind locked doors and inside dismal, bleak prison walls is where I find my “Bethlehem”. As a spiritual director and group facilitator for incarcerated women, I am all too familiar with the way inmates are stripped of their identity. Addressed only by their last names or the identification number stamped on their wristband, they are mothers and daughters, sisters and grandmothers who have been separated from their vital connections and discarded by society. Most of the women believe they are defective at their very core and feel shame for what they have done, what has been done to them, and most of all for who they are.
The Christmas story is a celebration of Mercy incarnate, born in a dark and dirty stable long ago to reveal the shared essence of Love inside everyone. Each of us is the baby in the manger, no matter what. We come into the world precious and pure, chosen and blessed by the gift of our birth. Again and again, I find myself humbly kneeling in Bethlehem as I bear witness to the transformation that is possible when the human meets the Holy. It isn’t anything I say or do. I simply offer my heart-felt presence and a safe place for the women to speak the stories of their lives, knowing that each story could be mine had I been born into the circumstances of their lives. There are times when faces soften, bodies relax and a glimmer of light comes into despondent eyes as the God-seed within the compost of their lives begins to open and reach toward the Light. Like the pull of the sun on a flower, they begin to remember who they are and glimpse the Goodness that has always been inside them before they lost their way. The Light of Christmas comes each time a new heart finally knows that they, too, are beloved. Where do you find your “Bethlehem”?