Marcus and I met at his second book recording in the Federal Detention Center. Before we began, he told me the account of his child’s first book delivery. The story was about how his wife surprised their five-year-old son with his book recording.
Marcus’ wife, Jennine, went through the usual routine: she pulled up to the school building, read until the bell rang, and then kissed her son when he jumped into the car. Marcus Jr. closed the door and reached for his mother’s hand. Jennine asked about his day, described their dinner plans, and then drove out of the bustling parking lot.
At the perfect moment, she turned on the radio and began to play dad’s reading. Dad’s voice came on: “Hi son, I hope school is going good…” Within seconds, Marcus Jr. abruptly asked his mom to turn off the recording.
Disappointed and confused, she pressed the off button. The ride went silent. Jennine was at loss; not knowing what to say, she said nothing. Marcus Jr. said nothing. He only looked out the window.
After they arrived home, he asked for the CD, book, and decorated card. Then he ran into the house, went up the stairs, and closed his bedroom door. The silence continued.
Jennine, puzzled and worried, wondered what could have gone wrong. Her little boy loved his daddy. He loved talking with him on the phone and in the visiting room. Although face-to-face visits were few and far between (due to traveling costs), Marcus Jr. savored and absorbed every moment with his dad.
Jennine went through all that had happened in the car and began scrutinizing events of the last few days. She tried to think if there were signs of something wrong. There had to be some reason why Marcus Jr. did not want to hear his father.
After what seemed a long wait, she decided to check on little Marcus. She walked up the stairs, pausing in her ascent to pray, and then continued toward his room. She knocked on the door. No response. She knocked again. Nothing.
Finally, slowly, she opened the door.
Lying on the floor was Marcus Jr., headphones on, turning pages. Tears running down his cheeks listing to Daddy read.
Marcus Jr. saw his mom from the corner of his eye.
Wiping his cheeks, then with great, deep, sobs he said: “I’m so sorry Mommy.” He sat up, still, sniffling, lips quivering: “I wanted to be alone with Daddy when he read to me.”
As Marcus completed the story, the visiting room where we sat became holy. We entered this sacred space; his inmate number faded; my volunteer badge faded. Our human hearts broke and ached together. I no longer saw a prisoner; I saw Christ. The words “I was in prison and you visited me” entered my soul.
Something mysterious happens when I visit imprisoned dads. I see God and God sees me. We read, being to being, mystery to mystery. Incarcerated dads are God’s tangible presence in my world: God’s brokenness breathing in my ear. They make visible that which is invisible. This mystery finds meaning: “I see your face as one sees the face of God.” God’s face is in the shadows.
Things are not as they seem. There has been a great universal reversal. The least have become the greatest, though unseen. “Turn your attention to Christ who lies in the street,” Augustine once said. “Look at Christ who is hungry and suffering from the cold, Christ who is a stranger and in need.”
God was inconspicuously with us as a poor carpenter, now He is with us in the impoverished and the broken-hearted. We are with Him when we are with them. Priest and Theologian, John Henry Newman’s experience is instructive: “I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: ‘Go down again—I dwell among the people.’”
Love opens our eyes to God’s presence. We do not see Him as He is unless we see Him in the other. We can have contact with God only if we have contact with them. Victor Hugo was right: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
“To see who sees Him, God makes Himself least seen.” To see who loves Him, God makes Himself unloved. C.S. Lewis, wrote: “Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses…for in him also Christ vere latitat, the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
**From my book: Opening Happiness