Guest Post: “Oh Mother of the Stairs” by Francis Etheredge

Oh Mother of the Stairs”

Albeit briefly, many years ago I was put in a prison cell while the police decided what to do with me; as, wandering the countryside, I was obviously thought to be on drugs or mentally ill. What had happened was that failing to get on with my university course, failing to form friendships, not knowing what to do next and absolutely tormented by questions about the purpose and meaning of life, I put the keys to my lodgings back through the front door as I left to go. I did not know where. I ended up in a cell and, after a while, on a psychiatric ward for a few weeks. However, even this brief experience makes me think of the solid cells, their sheer walls, formidable doors and intermittent visits by staff. So, although this does not equate with the full extent of a prison sentence, it is a real and personal point of departure.

“I don’t know how much you know about the Covid situation in prison but it’s pretty grim – no visits, locked inside cells for 23 hours a day, huge increase in self harm especially in women’s prisons, pretty much all education, rehabilitation, recreation, gym sessions have been put on hold. They’ve managed to contain it so far but there’s a lot of concerns that prisons are too full for proper distancing or safety measures – they’re near capacity anyway, and there isn’t enough staff. Some campaigners are trying to push for early releases for those with short sentences or who are waiting for their trials in order to reduce the pressure, but not much is being done even though it’s been agreed as necessary and a few were released back in the summer when the less infectious variant was the main worry”1.

In addition, then, to the considerations raised by my daughter, there is a real need to approach the situation of prisoners with practical compassion; indeed, it might even begin with simple advice, based on my own experience. Thus to offset long periods of inactivity with short periods, around fifteen minutes, of legs been put up against a wall to help to change the blood circulating through them – even going as far as cycling in the air. 

This, clearly, is an important work for ex-offenders, chaplains and volunteers who are able to engage, positively, with the imperative of taking people forward in their lives and not just because of the short-term necessity of help, as valid as that is. Thus, while it is self-evident that there are concerns for the well-being of prisoners, staff and the public generally, there are also humanitarian goals that go beyond the limitations of the situation and call for new ways forward. Who knows what untapped resources remain dormant or require the motivation to transfer skills from crime to the good to be done – in the prisoners themselves?!

What about a parish adoption of a prison or a prison block? Where, at the very least, the prisoners are prayed for regularly; and, who knows, what as yet unknown good works will spring from such seeds?

Oh Mother of The Stairs”

You inherited a title from our first mother, Eve, and, as the 

New Eve, you are even more the mother of all the living, loving

To call out to all to take the steps to life, to enter from whatever

Turning point and to take the rail, the rhythm of life and prayer

And to ascend, step by step, holding on as you are helped to hold

On and to rise, and rise again, rising in the company of others.

Oh Joseph, as you worked you saw who was lost and looking around,

And you prayed, whether in words or gestures, dedicating your

Difficulties to turning boys and girls, youths, old men and women,

To your wife, Mary, who stands by the entrance to the stairs,

Calling to all who would pass on by to stop, to falter just in time,

And to follow the turning up, and to avoid the turning down.

Oh Mother of the Stairs, let not those who are on the money-go-round

Stay stuck on the cutting edge, getting caught up in the swirling

Down and round, round and down until, either fished up or flat 

Against the possibility of the water-fall, taking them beyond the

Edge of returning, descending without drowning, falling as they

Fail, failing as they fall, faster now, unless netted before the end.

Oh Lord, you have descended to hell and you have ascended

To heaven, you know the way down and you know the way up;

And, indeed, you know all the steps in between and all the

Stops and starts and changes of direction, encouraging all

Who are going down to come up and all who are going up to

Continue up, and even as they go to help others to rise with them.

You knew imprisonment and you turned it into an opportunity

For the salvation of the world; you knew the isolation of being

Intensely alone and again you turned it into an opportunity

For the salvation of the world; you knew the utter worn-out-ness

Of carrying your cross and bearing afflictions for others and you

Turned it into an opportunity for the salvation of the world.

Help all who are imprisoned bear the burden of illness, isolation,

Even estrangement, turning their cross into opportunities to shed

Addictions, to see in their lives your Son’s walk with them to the

Resurrection, to turn around and see the goodness of God coming

Towards them, arms outstretched, bringing the healing love that

Loves to heal, turning them up-wards to go up the stairs with help.

Oh Mother of the Stairs, gather your children from all walks of life,

All points of the earth, all peoples of the world, all times of life,

Whether poor or rich, victim or violent, alone or as part of a gang,

Turning what is misused to a good use, scheming into helping,

Gang members into friends, taking into giving, causing harm

Into helping to heal – being saved into showing others the stairs.

“Oh Mother of the Stairs” is from an excerpt from pp. 174-180 of Within Reach of You: A Book of Prose and Prayers:

We are fundraising for the World Youth Day Pilgrimage to Lisbon, Portugal, 2023. All eight of children hope to go, along with their father and mother.

We have raised over half the money we need, if you would like to contribute to the remaining £6000, kindly go to the following “Just Giving Page”:

-Francis Etheredge.

Mr. Francis Etheredge is married with eight children, plus three in heaven. Francis is the author of Scripture: A Unique Word, and a trilogy From Truth and Truth (Volume I-“Faithful Reason”; Volume II-“Faith and Reason in Dialogue”; Volume III-“Faith Is Married Reason”), all of which are published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing; The Human Person: A Bioethical Word, The Family on Pilgrimage: God Leads through Dead Ends, The Prayerful Kiss, Conception: An Icon of the Beginning, Mary and Bioethics: An Exploration, and Honest Rust and Gold: A Second Collection of Prose and Poetry, all of which are published by En Route Books and Media.Francis is currently a freelance writer and speaker and his “Posts” on LinkedIn can be viewed here. Poetry; short articles; autobiographical blog; excerpts from books; and “Philosophize: A Ten Minute Write”.

1 Courtesy of Teresa Etheredge, email, 14/1/2021, studying Criminology at University, England; see, also, “Prisoners to entrepreneurs: Business holds the key to reducing re-offending – The Centre for Entrepreneurs explains the rationale behind turning prisoners into business owners…”: by Maximilian Yoshioka, Updated: Jun 9, 2016 Published: Jun 9, 2016:

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