By Greg Murphy

An ode to chaplains

This poem was written to convey the appreciation I feel for the work of prison chaplains

hands on Bible

The Hebrew word "Shatan" means "accuser" or "adversary." It appears in the Old Testament as an ordinary word referring to the actions of one human being against another. But when it appears as "The Shatan," it refers to the being we call Satan. Satan is not the opponent of God. He is the opponent and accuser of man. He brings out the worst in us.

Contrary to the popular idea, the devil does not make us do it, but he is always there planting the seeds of rebellion, fertilising them with false hope, harvesting hurt. The Shatan wants us to become the worst version of ourselves.

Prison chaplains work with his success stories. By the time people end up in jail, they have broken the law, many in a violent way. Most are affected by either substance abuse or mental health issues or both. Few are well educated.

The result is that sometimes the air is thick with despair, the cage is full of rage, the room replete with gloom.

Yet in that often-oppressive environment, miracles do happen. People hit rock bottom. Grace turns up. Light shines brightest in the darkest places. I have seen unmistakable joy in the eyes of inmates as they sing praises to their newfound God at church services in prison.

This poem was written to convey the appreciation I feel for the work of prison chaplains:


Concrete walls, steel doors, razor wire fences,
TV blaring on the wall, battering the senses,
Mindless pacing back and forth as time goes cruelly past,

Tomorrow is as yesterday; each day is as the last.
A phone call costs a small fortune, is overheard by all,
A letter takes a month to make its way in through the wall,
Adjourned again! No reason why, no explanation given,
More time to contemplate the world that seems by madness driven.

Your bad behaviour put you here, a mess of your own making,
You broke the rules, you went astray, a stupid undertaking,
You did the crime, you do the time, you got what you deserve,
You crim, you scum, you crook, you con, you thief, you perp, you perv!

And so, the shame devours the soul, and poison fills the heart,
Who once was tall and strong and firm is stooped and torn apart,
Who once could look you in the eye is banished from life's stage,
To wallow in despair, and grief, and loneliness, and rage.

Until a different voice is heard, a tone of warmth and zest,
A voice that summons hope, that revives faith and beckons rest,
A voice that cuts through concrete, shatters steel and blunts all blade,
As promises of pardon, friendship, love and trust are made.

The journey can begin again, the destination sounder,
The footing surer than before, no cause to fail or flounder,
The prison chaplain's work goes on, another story brighter,
Another life restored, another heart made so much lighter. - Greg Murphy

This article first appeared in The Inside Story, a publication of Carinity. It is used with kind permission.

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