Sanchez: Christmas desert

WOW, what a day December 15, 2017 was. That was the culmination of those who took up the Prayer and Life Workshop (PLW) at the Metro Bacolod District Jail-Special Intensive Care Area (MBDJ-Sica).

“Tuition” is free in this prayer and apostolic school. The challenge is to have enough grace to finish the 15 week course.

During the “graduation,” we held a desert. In my time as a participant, we held the desert at the CICM retreat at the CICM Mission Center Maryshore, Talisay City or Saint Padre Pio’s Garden in the foothills of Salvador Benedicto.

As an environmentalist, I like this commune with God, praising His creation, the biodiversity and the web of life.

Biblically speaking, the essence of the desert isn’t the dry sand or parched vegetation; it’s the silence and solitude. Wherever a person searches for God in silence and solitude in the mountainous tropical rainforests, retreat house, the bank of the river, or an ALS room where they practice their sacred half hour.

But how do you do that in the middle of a busy, crowded prison compound of concrete walls and barbwire where the right of privacy is suspended with the pervasive use of CCTVs to remind the inmates that they’re PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty)?

Why even glorify the desert? What’s in there? For one, the most notable chapters in salvation history took place in the desert. For another, it’s here where all signs of life disappear. Only the Divine Presence shines forth. Where everything is quiet, only God speaks.

For the desert in the MBDJ-Sica, the five participants who attended at least 13 of the 15 sessions have transformed the Alternative Learning System (ALS) room of the MBDJ-Sica into the cenacle, the upper room for the silence and solitude.

When one does not have or cannot access formal education in schools, ALS is an alternate or substitute. ALS includes both the non-formal and informal sources of knowledge and skills.

During the desert, the external sounds remained as before. Noisy banter of bored inmates or loud speakers. But the consistent attendees has been trained in inner silence of the mind.

Time and again, they have been reminded to practice silencing, to focus on their time with the Father Abba during their sacred half hours. It is here where they practice multiple prayer activities in silence and solitude.

So in that sense, the ALS room has been consecrated. It is here where future apostles are forged and formed. Inmate apostles who will go inside the prison compound or out in the world as witnesses of the Christ Jesus, announcing His salvation.

Wherever the graduates are, it will be their duty to be not as theologians debating on sola scriptura or sola fide with other Christians but as witnesses to implant the Kingdom of God through their presence, conduct, words and action among the unloved, neglected, dying inmates.

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