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Sabbath Day – Imprisoned in the Philippines

February 18, 2016

I believe that Sabbath Practice forms the center of biblical ethics, economics and justice. I aspire to keep the Sabbath each Thursday and blog about it here as a way of keeping myself accountable.

Since this week is also school vacation/winter break, I spent the first part of the day at home with my family. At noon, my son and I joined some friends for local pizza and then caught a train into NYC. We then spent the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My son is a fan of the Percy Jackson novels, and the museum has put together a Percy Jackson scavenger hunt, allowing kids to read passages from the books which mention items depicted in the various galleries and the search them out. The kids were briefly thrown, looking for a statue of Athena, because the sculpture was labeled “Minerva.” But they figured it out. Here is August with a few of his friends before Perseus, from whom Percy Jackson takes his name.


After the museum, August had his favorite NYC out-of-a-cart hotdog (“the best in the world”) and we headed for Harlem and home. We had clocked almost five miles of walking in the museum. We were exhausted.

My most recent post about reading multi-national literature mentioned a series of deaths in the congregation I serve, and so lifted up Greek literature about grief. At that time I had read Anne Carson’s introduction to, and translation of, Euripides’ Herakles. So here I am, with one of the boys I visited the museum with, standing before Herakles himself. I had always assumed his was a heroic pose, but I was haunted by the fact that it could just as easily portray Herakles beset with the madness that led him to kill his own family.


One of the funerals I conducted led me to ponder literature from the Philippines. The book I really wanted to read was Noli Me Tangare, by the Filipino nationalist Jose Rizal. But the library did not have it and it is really too large a work for a week. However, sitting on my shelf were the prison writings of Karl Gaspar, a Christian prisoner of conscience in the last years of the Marcos’ martial rule. Arrested in 1983, Karl corresponded constantly until his release in 1985. The first week of arrest, during which time his whereabouts were unknown, corresponded with Holy Week – an experience he documents fully.

Throughout his two years in prison Karl Gaspar wrote poetry, liturgy, described a prison theater he was involved with, commented on national events (including the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino on August 21, 1983), appealed form prison reform, and more. His letters are warm, human, faith-filled, and inspiring. The book was edited by two Maryknoll sisters and published as How Long?: Prison Reflections from the Philippines with a forward by Jim Wallis. If anyone knows how I can acquire a copy of Karl’s latest book, The Masses are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul, I would appreciate you letting me know.


The books and genre (prison letters) were a surprise to me, a kind of final gift from the dear woman whose funeral here was broadcast for her family in the Philippines. I think I can expect more prison writings in the near future. (And I am struck only now by the coincidence that the congregation I am serving will be studying mass incarceration and prison reform as a  Lenten discipline for the next several weeks).

“All things work together for good…”



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