Today’s post is by Deacon Mitzi J. Budde, Head Librarian and Professor at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

Imagine yourself suddenly, unexpectedly arrested and put in jail. You find yourself locked in a cell, perhaps with multiple strangers or perhaps all alone, staring at cracks in the concrete block, wondering what has just happened and what’s going to happen next. Whether you broke a law or whether it was all just a terrible mistake doesn’t really matter at this particular moment. You are at a crisis point in your life, and your family is probably in crisis as well.

Whether actually incarcerated or just imprisoned by life’s circumstances, we all find ourselves trapped in a desperate situation at one time or another, pinned in by the unforeseen and unavoidable. This is the stuff of nightmares, the dark night of the soul. These are the very moments in life when we want most desperately to pray, yet words often fail us precisely at these times of deepest need.

The church wants to stand beside you and to pray with you and for you in that dark night, whatever it may be. Hear My Voice: A Prison Prayer Book (available here) has been written for anyone who is incarcerated or imprisoned in any form. It is a resource for reflection, Bible study, and prayer. The primary focus is on those in jails, prisons, detention centers, and half-way houses, those facing arrest and sentencing, those serving time. The book is also intended to offer prayer support for families and friends of those who are incarcerated. And the book could be a prayer guide for each of us, to help us draw from the deep well of Scripture, song, meditations, prayers, and witness of the church in our times of trial.

Hear My Voice was developed in collaboration between the ELCA and Augsburg Fortress, and it will be officially launched at the Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee this August. It was developed as part of the implementing resolutions of the ELCA Social Statement, The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries. The team of writers includes currently and formerly incarcerated persons and those involved in various prison and re-entry ministries. The images that accompany this blog are original artwork for the book by artist Robyn Sand Anderson.

As the church we are called to accompany those in prison and their families. Jesus says that whenever we visit someone in prison, we’re visiting Jesus himself (Matthew 25:40). Local congregations may want to purchase the prayer book and get it into the hands of prisoners, either directly or via prison chaplains. We hope this book will help to connect those inside prison with those outside, and those outside with those inside, to offer words of grace, hope, forgiveness, and new life, in Jesus’ name. As we witness together: God can make all things new.