“I’ve had a bunch of revelations in my life.” The words came from an inmate sitting across the table at the jail recently. He looked impossibly young, was skeletally skinny, indigenous. His face somehow managed to look deadly serious and impishly goofy at the same time, a hint of a smile always threatening to break out into the real thing. He was a big fan of rap music, poetry, anime. He knew his bible well, rattling off passages and references by memory.
“Tell me about these revelations,” I said. Revelations weren’t really on the agenda that day, but I’ve long since learned that it’s often better to ditch my own plans and let conversations go where they will.
He paused, measuring his words carefully, speaking slowly and deliberately. “Well, I was at my grandpa’s place. I was just sitting there, thinking about forgiveness. My niece was running in and out of the room. The TV was on in the background. All of a sudden, there was this presence in the room, like an angel or something. And the TV turned to flames. And some words went across the screen. ‘YOUR SOUL IS ABSOLUTE.’ And then it was done.”
He looked straight at me once his story was finished, the same strange combination of solemnity and mischief dancing across his face. It felt like his eyes were burrowing into my skull.
I didn’t immediately know what to say. This happens a fair bit at the jail. You hear some wild stories. That day in particular had been a day where the supernatural had made some fairly bizarre appearances in a number of conversations. There were witches and demons and angels (one named Robert, who I should look up) and clairvoyance and secret societies of cannibals and all kinds of other reports from beyond that had left me groping around for anything useful to say in response. It was yet another reminder of how utterly useless the liberal-ish, rational-ish theology that I have spent most of my days articulating is in the jail.
In the end, I did what I often do when I don’t know what to say. I asked a question. “So what do you think the revelation meant? How do you interpret that expression, ‘Your soul is absolute?’”
Another long pause. And then, “Well, I don’t know. I think it might mean that I’m safe. You know, I’m good. I can’t go to hell.”
“Interesting,” I said, unimaginatively. “What about that word ‘absolute’? What does it mean to say that a soul is absolute?” I was groping for a connection of any kind. “You mean like ‘pure’ or ‘complete’ or something?”
“Maybe, I dunno,” he replied. “Doesn’t ‘absolute’ have something to do with forgiveness? Like maybe it just means that I’m forgiven.”
My brain started spinning. Absolute… Absolve… Maybe there’s an etymological trail linking the two? “Yeah, you might be right,” I said. When people confess their sins sometimes a priest will absolve them. They call it “words of absolution.” To absolve is kind of like to forgive.” An actual smile appeared on his face at this point.
Later that day, I looked it up. Sure enough, the connection seems to exist.
I wrote recently about Nick Cave’s assertion that the question the whole world revolves around is: “Can we be forgiven?” I am convinced that he is right about this. And I am convinced that God is always calling out to us, reaching out in lyrical prose and fiery revelations on TV screens and angelic visitations and everything in between, saying, “Yes. You can. And you are.”
I thanked my young friend for sharing. When the guards came to take the group back to their unit, I told him I would pray for his upcoming court date. He half-smiled at me. “Thanks.” I watched him sauntering down the grim barren hallway, back to his cell.
Unrestricted. Freed. An absolute soul.
A great story… Over the years my best friends for some reason have always identified as non-Christian… but man they sure at times can rock your Christian world!!!!
Yes, my world is regularly rocked by the Christians and non-Christians at the jail!
Such a good story. Thanks, Ryan.
Thank you, Renita 🙂
For every human being, their soul is absolute. It is without equal or comparison. The soul has primacy. It is our sacred trust.
Choices that offend the soul, offend the chooser, offend his neighbour, offend the truth, offend our God and condemn the soul.
Prisons are everywhere and all of us occupy them at one time or another. Every prisoner knows that all politics are utterly useless when the soul is at risk.
Only Jesus saves. Offer Jesus. Only Jesus saves the soul.