Order my Steps

I separated myself from my phone and personal belongings, locking them in the car. I carried only my music folder and a hymnal, and my driver’s license. Together with my choir friends, we headed into the cinder block structure through a series of metal detectors and routine checks of bags and people. We surrendered our identification in exchange for a visitor pass, and with both guard and chaplain escorts, moved through a series of huge locked gates and drab, concrete hallways into the central gathering place, where meals and medications are distributed. No decor, no individuality, no connection with the outside world: stepping foot into a jail, even for a visit, is a reminder of how much freedom and privilege we carry with us on a daily basis.

A few of us voiced how out of place we probably looked, our eclectic singing group of about a dozen people ranging in age from 25 to 85. Emphasis on the higher end of that range. We worried that some of our music was also probably a bit too “out there” for this group, including an an anthem we planned to sing in Russian. No matter, we were there to sing and connect with a diverse group of inmates. On this particular visit, all those attending were in recovery. We watched them enter silently, in single rows, and sit down in the rows of dimly painted metal benches.

The city jail chaplain is a priest with presence. Warmth exudes from him, and it was clear this group was his congregation. The warmth of relationship and the transforming power of connection was present in handshakes, words of encouragement and even occasional moments of laughter. Several inmates helped us set up the keyboard and microphones, and we started to sing a series of our favorite anthems from the past year. My choir sings with our hearts, even if we occasionally miss a few notes. We are not definitely not accustomed to applause and standing ovation, but this group stood and clapped for every piece we sang. As the evening sun-rays shed their light through the ceiling high window slits, something greater than we were began to transform this space. And, as we began to sing Order My Steps, an awareness began to fill me. In this group, in this space, we were beginning to become one voice, one body, one group united for a few brief moments through the divine music of the spheres.

I want to walk worthy,
My calling to fulfill.
Please order my steps lord,
And I’ll do your blessed will.
The world is ever changing,
But you are still the same;
If you order my steps, I’ll praise your name.

The power of divine love and connection is felt most poignantly at unexpected times and places. In that space, there was no doubt of the presence of spirit. What brought us all to this common space was our humanness. We all fall or falter. But the spark and presence of the divine is also in each one of us. United in song, in worship, in connection…that brought a transformative space that I felt in myself and saw reflected in the eyes, the smiles, the connection of each member of that congregation. We were, indeed, in step.

Then in this moment, the tables turned. The chaplain brought forward two of the jail’s residents who wanted to sing for us. We joined the congregation in the audience, and these two men lifted their voices in music and praise. The tables turned, our roles reversed. Choir and inmates sat, all together, and we listened to the voices of these two men sing in gospel harmony:

I need you, you need me;
we’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me, agree with me;
we’re all a part of God’s body.

It is His will that every need be supplied;
you are important to me,
I need you to survive.
You are important to me,
I need you to survive.

I pray for you, you pray for me;
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth;
I love you, I need you to survive.

The kingdom of God was present in this moment. The last were first, the first were last. There was no division by race or by creed or by human standards of worthiness. I became aware that while I still “owned” the privilege of my freedom in a legal sense, we all owned and shared in a greater freedom, too. I prayed that each person there could experience that freedom, even for a moment. In that freedom is the Kingdom of God. And we do, truly, need each other to survive.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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1 Response to Order my Steps

  1. SBall says:

    Ahhhhh, thank you for articulating the power and grace of this experience! I was told how the cross symbolized the meeting of the physical and the spiritual worlds and that it was always “happening” if we would only notice ……. I certainly noticed on Friday evening.

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