A Spiritual Archives Story from All-Creatures.org


by SBH Clay

I spent months waiting to visit my friend. Weeks planning the trip. Days arranging for his mom to accompany me. Hours driving from Houston to Beeville.

At the entrance to the maximum-security prison, we were greeted by two no-nonsense guards. One recorded my license plate number. The other searched my car for contraband.

A quarter-mile ahead loomed a mammoth windowless brick structure surrounded by coiled-barbed-wire fences. Rows of crops touched the horizon on both sides and behind us. To our left grazed four off-duty horses, oblivious to the Saturday visitors. We parked and walked to visitor check-in. Our every move was monitored by an armed tower sentry.

Signing in went smoothly for my friend’s mom. Not for me. I wasn’t on the approved visitor list after all. A written request to add my name, made four months earlier, was still wending its way through the system. Strike one!

Uncharacteristically, I didn’t lose my cool. If this was a test of my forbearance, I was determined to pass in the ensuing two-hour wait.

We’d passed another prison five miles down the road. Turns out another young man who I’d met in my chaplain work at the county jail back home recently been sent to that unit – a temporary facility with less-stringent rules for visitors. Why not pay him a visit? Once there, the sign-in was quick. (As I hazily recall, I didn't need to be pre-approved, or else he had already done that first thing when moving there a few weeks earlier.) The only trouble was, he’d been transferred eight days earlier! Strike two!

I decided to sit in my car in a nearby store parking lot, eat lunch and read a magazine on spirituality. It featured people who protect the environment and animals. I identified with the forest-preserver and primate-rescuer. Even if my mission was salvaging teens instead of trees. Even though I was into helping great guys, not great apes. Still …. I had to ask: Was my work with troubled youths as fruitless as this foiled day? Inwardly, I rebelled at the idea that our mutual Parent would provide a sanctuary for chimps and orangutans yet leave me out of His perfect plan. A glance back at the magazine’s opening article set me straight. It was titled, “Listen … you may be surprised.”

Okay, God, I’m listening. What’s the surprise? The first message came through clearly: “Return to the prison now.” I obeyed, despite having a full hour before I needed to be back. Five minutes later, I pulled into a waiting area near the guard shack, across the driveway from the four still-grazing horses.

Next move, Father? “Ask if you can give the horses peppermints.” One of the unsmiling guards replied that the “trigger-happy” sentry would shoot. Strike three!

Oh, no, was I really out?

What now? I beseeched. “Read the Bible.” At a nearby picnic table, I opened another magazine to Bible passages on the topic “Spirit,” a name for God, and read these words: “He shall… reprove with equity for the meek…. He shall… assemble together the outcasts… and gather together the dispersed… from the four corners of the earth” (Isaiah 11:4,12). I glanced up. The horses had stopped grazing and were gazing -- at me. I hadn’t spoken one word.

The next verses came from the creation story, in which God blessed man and gave him “dominion over… every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Three of the horses, as if capturing the meaning, walked toward me, stopping at the fence. One faced me front-on. The other two fanned out on either side of him, positioning themselves at 45-degree angles. All three fixed their eyes on me, not looking away once or moving a single muscle, but for a stray fly-swatting tail swish. The fourth horse walked behind a nearby bush, stood stock still and stared at me.

I read voicelessly to my transfixed, statuesque congregation for a full half-hour. Like those assembled on Pentecost Day in Acts, we were “with one accord in one place,” feeling the Holy Spirit “pour out” on us (Acts 2:1,17). We understood “the pure language of Spirit” that “ear hath not heard, nor hath lip spoken” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy).

Our silent sermon ending, the guard announced that my passenger was ready to be picked up. I walked slowly to the car. The horses stirred.

Shook out their manes. Strolled toward one another. One stretched out his front legs as if bowing, lowered his belly to the ground, rolled onto his back, and kicked his hooves in the air.

Then the foursome sauntered back to the middle of the field for their after-church meal. “See, you do make a difference,” they whinnied as I waved a grateful goodbye

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