I greet you as a first-time writer for the Messy Jesus Business blog at a time that seems messier than most. My heart has been heavy, though that’s not entirely unusual in jail ministry. The stories that accompany experiences of incarceration often involve grave harm, deep woundedness and painful separation. Yet the story of “visiting the imprisoned” can sometimes sound very heartwarming. A woman becoming acquainted with Kolbe House Jail Ministry recently told me, “You must get so much peace from what you do.” 

Yes, there is peace in the confidence that God calls us to walk towards suffering, not away from it. But this walking towards means that we are continuously immersed in moments of anguish, desperation, loneliness and sorrow. Inner peace can be found, but it is a disciplined practice — perhaps one that I am not always great at. Secondary trauma is a very real risk. 

For evil is not a line that separates you from us,

Jesus made sure of that.

Balance has to come through other areas of my life. Social justice documentaries have been replaced by cooking shows. Chasing bubbles and butterflies with my children has become a valuable exercise in enjoying the simple things. Even sweeping and folding clothes can be powerful ways to turn my mind toward the mundane.

Seeking these moments of respite is good and necessary. Our distractions and delights can be tools for processing the more difficult moments of life. Still, the overall trajectory of our life should bring us closer to the suffering of others, not further away from it.

Image by Salladeen Muhamyn
Muhamyn, Salladeen, untitled, Kolbe House Santuario. Image submitted by Emily Cortina

Most of us have probably not been in a recent position to draw physically near to the acute suffering in the communities of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, and too many others. Still, God invites us to draw near, to not turn away, even from the hardest questions that rise up amidst the lives fallen; questions of evil, compassion, redemption and culpability. These are questions that swirl around my vocational existence every day. 

I leave you with a bit of the messiness that I believe God calls us to walk towards together, “A Letter to the 22nd Life Lost.”

A Letter to the 22nd Life Lost.

Where is the line beyond which
Compassion cannot cross?
Have you taken us there?
Is it the nineteen fourth graders you laid to eternal rest?
In feeble attempts to block images from our minds,
We send up signals of angry distress.
As if part of the same Spirit, we breathe together
The heavy sighs that follow weeping.
Yet in our yearning we wish for you, too,
To feel loved.
For evil is not a line that separates you from us,
Jesus made sure of that.
Evil moves in each of us — sometimes so slowly we can’t perceive it,
Sometimes so quickly we can’t stop it.
With a little extra grace we can keep it at bay for awhile,
But how easily we can lose sight of our inherent goodness.
No, we cannot point our finger at you, nor judge the state of your soul,
For we know little of the path that led you here.
But we choose the path, however long it may be, 
that takes us to a world where 
you, too, are safe.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Cortina is a mother raising three bilingual, bicultural children alongside her Mexican husband. She is an advocate for transformative and restorative justice and believes strongly in parishes as mostly untapped sources of radical community. She works at Kolbe House Jail Ministry in Chicago, Illinois.

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