UPDATED :: what a difference a year makes: reflections on last year’s west memphis 3 vigil

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Friday, August 19th, 2011

west memphis 3

UPDATED :: what a difference a year makes: reflections on last year’s west memphis 3 vigil

UPDATE: couldn’t think of a better way to update this post than from a tweet from my good friend john who has passionately worked on this case and is present at the hearing. good work man.

Sorry for silence; finally got permission to talk. In waiting room to go to hearing. After 18 yrs the #wm3 are about to be free. Overwhelmedless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

editorial note: we’re about a week shy of one year since the voices for justice west memphis 3 rally with eddie vedder and a host of other supporters. just a month later, i posted the following account of a candelight vigil i attended to coincide with oral arguments on behalf of damien. and today—if reports are to be trusted (which is always iffy)—we’ll see damien, jason & jessie walk free. after 18 years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit, they’ll get to experience freedom once more. so, i thought i’d offer this up again now that our times of prayer and reflection are becoming realities. i’ll offer an update as the developments continue.

about a month ago, i blogged about the voices for justice rally for the west memphis 3, including performances by eddie vedder, johnny depp, natalie maines and patti smith. truly, it was epic. far more than being epic due to the amazing performances, it was epic due to the way in which i experienced the god of justice.

here’s what i wrote then:

you see, when we engage in the songs and dialogue and heart-spaces of the things that are nearest to god, we worship.

and god is justice.

justice for the oppressed israelites who wandered through the wilderness. for the blind man who laid by the pool for almost 40 years. for the naked woman who was drug out in public alone to be stoned for adultery. for our jewish brothers and sisters who were carted away to be engulfed in flames by an evil tyrant. for our brother martin whose dream is still ringing true despite the bullets that rang out in the memphis sky so many years ago.

and for 3 innocent men who spend their lives in cages made for someone other than them.

you see, justice is at the heart of god. and so are our brothers damien, jason and jessie.

and so on saturday night, we listened and we sang and we joined together in stirring the rolling rivers of justice.

worship happened.

and it, once again, happened last night.

our brothers and sisters down the street at quapaw quarter united methodist church apparently believe jesus when he talked about that whole sheep/goats thing. they, in fact, are sheep, as they’ve taken a lead role among the churches here in little rock to lend their time and—like last night—their building to support the ongoing fight for the freedom of damien echols, jason baldwin and jessie misskelley.

last night’s vigil was scheduled to coincide with today’s oral arguments on behalf of damien in front of the arkansas supreme court (if you’re reading this before 9 a.m. on september 29, 2010, you can watch those very arguments by clicking here). the night included some music (including the percussive stylings of one john w. hardin), readings from the 3’s journals/letters and a 17-minute candlelit time of silence/reflection.

the pinnacle of the night was the 17-minute candlelit time of silence and reflection. each minute, of course, represented a year that the 3 have been innocently locked away.

as the time of reflection began, candles were lit and each person assumed their own posture of silence. i’m sure for many it included prayer while it included reflections on the case for others and times of meditation for others. i’m sure there were tears and i’m sure there were deep moments of personal heartbreak and sadness.

for me, i engaged in prayer, reflection on the 3 and even times of just stillness and deep quiet. there was even such a sense of calm and quiet that i was actually able to almost hear the sound of my breath as i breathed in and out.

and then the hot candle wax dripped through onto my finger.

internally, i screamed. externally, i tried to play it cool.

you know those classic candlelight vigil type of white candles with the round paper holders? yes, those. about halfway into the 17 minutes, as the wax began to build around the rim of the paper and candle, a drip of wax managed to escape through a gap and onto my fingers.

drip.

drip.

drip.

drip.

over and over and over. every 3 or 4 seconds. like chinese water torture. drip. drip. drip. burning each time, actually getting worse rather than getting used to the heat.

my time was wrecked. my prayers. my reflections. my careful listening to my breathing was over. all i could do was switch hands back and forth quickly as i rubbed away the burning wax.

and then, in some kind of divine moment of clarity, i was suddenly reminded of a couple things. first, this slow, dripping burn seemed incredibly appropriate. i mean, here we are reflecting on the robbed innocence of 3 men who have now spent half their lives behind bars and i can’t concentrate because of a little hot wax? it seemed absurd, even in spite of its constancy.

secondly, i was reminded of tony jones’ soul shaper in which i learned quite a few years ago about the “jesus prayer”. my orthodox and (many) catholic friends are very familiar with this, but most evangelical protestant are likely completely unaware. in essence, it’s a short, formulaic, repetitive prayer, stating, lord jesus christ, son of god, have mercy on me, a sinner.. tony describes how he (and many others) use a prayer rope to count the number of times they’ve said the prayer (ultimately, it’s more pragmatic than anything). at each knot, one repeats the jesus prayer and after each 25 knots is a bead where one might pause to recite the lord’s prayer.

so in the remaing 5ish minutes, i decided to engage a modified version of the jesus prayer/prayer rope. each time the hot wax would drip, i would offer another person/idea/dream up for prayer.

drip.

for damien.

drip.

for jason.

drip.

for jessie.

drip.

for justice.

drip.

for these 3 men.

drip.

and for their families who have suffered.

drip.

for the 3 murdered little boys.

drip.

for their families who have lost their most precious gifts.

drip.

for all prisoners.

drip.

for those who are innocently convicted.

drip.

and for those who are rightly convicted.

drip.

may we discontinue to neglect the imprisoned.

drip.

may we see jesus in them.

drip.

may we pull the plank out of our own eye.

drip.

instead of pointing out the speck in others’.

drip.

for those who propagate the use of the death penalty.

drip.

may they instead choose life.

drip.

may they instead choose friendship.

drip.

may they instead choose jesus.

drip.

for those who fight for justice.

drip.

for those who have gone before in the fight.

drip.

for brother martin, for brother mandela, for brother gandhi, for our mother, teresa.

drip.

for our brothers and sisters in arkansas and around the world who fight for the freedom of 3 boys from small-town arkansas.

drip.

and so the prayer could continue. on and on until justice actually occurs. we’ve waited 17 years and it hasn’t happened yet.

now is the time.

i’ll conclude the same way i did in my post a month ago that i referenced above. i wrote the following:

worship happened saturday night and in fact, included a sermon. whereas it was brief, it was one of the best sermons i’ve heard in quite some time, and it never even specifically uttered the name of god. eddie vedder delivered the sermon on behalf of brother damien. a february letter from damien read,

One thing I’d dearly love to have is an hourglass. Or a whole collection of them- some that measure minutes, some that measure hours, some that measure the whole day. And grandfather clocks! And pocket watches.

The thing I like most about time is that it’s not real. It’s all in the head. Sure, it’s a useful trick to use if you want to meet someone at a specific place in the universe and have tea or coffee- but that’s all it is- a trick. There is no such thing as the past. It exists only in the memory. There is no such thing as the future. It exists only in our imagination. If our watches were truly accurate, the only thing they would ever say is “Now”.

jesus said the kingdom of god is here. not in the past. not in the future. but now.

the time for justice is now. not in the past. not in the future. but now.

now is the time to free damien echols, jason baldwin and jessie misskelley. now.

amen.

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