It took twenty-two years of hard time in prison for me to get how deep gratitude is. I’ve found it to be a force in the universe spawned in the interior forests, rivers, and seas of a person’s soul. It pours into the world, changing things. The mind becomes a magnet that attracts more good to be grateful for.

I earned that knowledge through years of bitterness and pain–the kind drawn into the life of a person who can’t understand the art of gratitude.

An imprisoned person serving a Life sentence has to think real hard to find something to be grateful for. On the inside, we call a Life sentence an “elbow”, because the word Life begins with a capital L and a capital L looks like an elbow if you have any kind of imagination.

Living with that elbow is like waking up every day and having the biggest dude you can think of rock you with a hard elbow to the face. Every day. Again and again. Every day. But if you deserve it, it’s only righteous that you get smashed like that. So, I rarely complained.

I committed my crimes so I ate that elbow day by day for twenty-two years. The hurt blurred my ability to see anything to be grateful for. Any blessing was mitigated by that elbow to the teeth.

But there was a moment in my incarceration that I learned how to transform that elbow into a kiss. I was praying. It began as an ordinary “thank you Jesus” kind of prayer, but then it went off the rails into a wild, trembling experience that forever shifted my vision.

Suddenly, prayer words poured from my inner being. I became acutely aware of a vast, knowing, astoundingly loving exterior consciousness that was responsible for, aware of, and responding to me with wave after wave of energy dancing with, around, and within me as I worshiped.

In church language, this is when I am overcome by the Holy Spirit. This is when prayer hits the sweet spot and I enter the interstice — the thin space where earth and Divinity merge. It is when the lines between adoration, worship, and prayer blur.

I began babbling about all the things I was thankful for: Its presence and wisdom, grace and love. Family, friends, loved ones, sky, earth, rain, sun, and then something happened.

“Thank you for the pain, my Lord,” I said. I hadn’t known that was coming but it was a startling clear shining truth and after a pause to notice how it moved in my being I opened more fully. “The abuse, the…” A levee suddenly broke within me. The walls of the fortress I’d built to protect the parts of me still bleeding out from all of what had been done to break my child spirit came tumbling down. In an instant. Oh, that child still hurt so badly, was still so confused, not knowing who to trust or dare to love. He was always there behind the walls of that fortress hiding in a dark corner crying, curled into a protective little ball warding of the punches, kicks, slaps, and ugly words he constantly anticipated.

I was standing there in my cell holding that boy in my being. I raised my arms to the heavens, palms open, fingers stretched wide.

I remembered the beatings the child in me had endured by terrified grown ups doing the only thing they knew to try to keep me from the fate of that cell I was praying in.

I remembered the decade I spent isolated in cells smaller than most working people’s bathrooms being beaten, stripped naked, and abandoned by most of those I’d once believed would never leave.

I remembered being told by one of my abusers at six that she’d tell my mother all the nasty things we’d been doing if I didn’t have sex with her that night and being afraid because I thought I was being bad when I was actually being raped by a female pedophile.

I remembered and thanked my God for it all. I’d never been so grateful in my life. All the years of abuse and shame and pain and beatings and pain Lord, my God, the pain–I thank you. Because I would not be the man you are creating me to be were it not for the dirt, grime, and devastation I’ve had to crawl through to stand.

I was weeping by then in that cell shouting and praising the Most High from the root of my Self. “And though, my Lord, I regret my crimes with all I am, I thank you for my Life sentence and the other Life sentence and the 17.5 years sitting on top of them because they’ve taught me what it means to be ‘alive’.”

The years had been breaking me piece by piece. I’d been swallowing teeth and bones day by day until I was lifted, just then, above the mundanity of my perception into transcendence.

The bow I’d taken to the chops for years was transformed in that moment of prayer into a kiss.

Prayer, for me, is a reciprocal matter. It is not simply recited words or requests for God. It is reaching up, out, and within for connection and exchange of thought and energy with and between my mind, soul, spirit, body, and the Divine. It is an opening and release of my inner consciousness to dance in the Field of Universal Consciousness.

I usually keep this most intimate Self hidden behind an elaborate armor of defenses, but those walls come down during intense prayer.  In these moments, I feel the connection between the realms of the mundane and transcendent, of the Self and God.