MS (8.4.1929 / Marton, Lancashire)

0006 Prayer For The Condemned

He’ll be the next to go.
In the Condemned Block, over many years,
he’s moved up the line; now he’s got that end cell.
All legal processes have been tested.
Of course his lawyers will fight once again –
a pardon’s out of the question, of course,
but maybe just a lifer? (He’s spent half of it
behind bars anyway.) At Association Time,
if it’s allowed, the others look at him
covertly – how’s he taking it? And maybe
know a little more of themselves..

And so, we’re asked to pray for him
knowing in our hearts, that he’s but
a metaphor for all of us.. so despite his crimes,
there’s that in us which feels that we are he…
and redemption’s not unknown, to God or man…
are we just praying for ourselves?

But how to pray, and how to pray for – what?
that he be free to be himself again?
but we don’t know him well enough to trust
him when he says, he’s found God in there…

And if we pray that he remain himself,
but where he is, behind those bars,
to work out his life, like a monk
(who also needs more time, even forever,
to understand ‘ forever’ more) –
there’s mercy for you, of a sort,
if he will get that spiritual support
that monks may call upon…

We may pray to God to bring him change of mind,
if it’s not too late now.. and here again,
who is to judge, or how may he himself so prove?
‘O Lord, please give him one more chance…’ –
are we thinking more of him than of ourselves?

Yes, we may pray, deep in ourselves, that human law
may bring together as we best may know
justice and mercy in their godly match..
and in a subtle sense, his death, if it bring
that dedication in our social thoughts,
will have been in some small way
another death but on the cross of life for us;

And for some of us, prayer's not unlike
the action of a wounded animal - as if comatose,
gathering all one's capabilities, and diving deep
beyond words, beyond thought, beyond any wish,
like a surrender of one's living soul
to seek, deep within oneself, that place
where all souls meet...;

Those who live a life of faith
need but to dip into
the holy water of eternity
flowing in the sweet words
of the age of faith:

'Lette goe the teares
of earthlie wepynge -
comende hys sawle
to Cristés kepynge'...

So should we not, when and if we pray each day,
and use the Lord’s Prayer, reaching that too familiar line,
‘Thy Will be Done’,
pause, and remember him in his last hours,
- perhaps remember Him in His last hours -
and live the remainder of our lives
(as we move up the line towards That Day)
slightly, subtly, differently; and know
a little more about prayer; about ourselves.

by Michael Shepherd

Comments (6)

A topic that scales far beyond Life in prison vs Death sentence for the ultimate offender.Your piece reveals the wavering process of just about all of us politically, ethically.and emotionally.Some talk big, and tough when they hear about a heinous crime & how it should be handled.Then execution day arrives and we all watch the Vigils for the condemned, & CNN on last hour Death Watch, and suddenly it becomes more than human for us to question the Eye 4 an Eye theory...But in the end... good or bad...right or wrong...We all have execution dates...We just (in most cases) are luckily not privied to there whens & hows...This is AWESOME WORK Michael.''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''fjr
If Ego is always present, we are human afterall, Miguelito, then Romans 8: 26 perhaps, way back from my 'Fundy' days as the daughter of a Southern Baptist Mama and a former high school Sunday School teacher, myself, still rings true: 'And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself [or Herself] intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words[...]' I always find comfort in this verse when I am scared, confused, struggling with the ambiguities in my heart over something that has too many sides to it...and I find the quietest part of myself telling me to be true to what is good and right. I pray for both the 'condemned' and the 'condemner' - for as long as I have breath. This is a lovely poem. I'm so glad I gave it a chance to grow inside my heart and clear my mind. Thanks.
You pose a very interresting question in this marvelous poem. I do pray for many things. I have spun this in my mind, and have decided that I shall pray for the victim instead! 10.
As I move closer and closer to my own 'end cell, ' I too wonder what to pray for. I know I need to pray for justice, but that scares me to death, so I think I'll pray for mercy instead. This is one of your best, Michael, and I shall treasure it and re-read it many times. Scarlett
This is one evocative piece of work! Well done!
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