Nancy H. Sehested Sermons & Writings

Breathing Places

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It wasn’t the blood on the stairs that sent me racing back down the hallway, or the repeated cries of “Oh, my god!” that turned me away. It was simply this: I couldn’t breathe. I needed air. Air that was not saturated with pepper spray. With eyes burning, I coughed and sputtered my way back to where I could breathe again. After ten years at the prison, I knew where to go for breathing places.

Two nurses and six officers bolted down the main corridor to the housing unit where the assault happened. No one invited me to go along, of course. They were the first responders, not me. They had retractable batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs; they could stop the flow of blood or patch a gash of flesh. But me? I was useless. “Non-essential staff.”

It was 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I prepared for the morning worship service, oriented our new assistant chaplain, and checked on the forty volunteers who were leading a weekend spiritual retreat for forty-two inmates. As I walked through the lobby, the sergeant in Master Control announced “Code 4. Code 4.” Inmate-to-inmate assault. Then “Code Red. Code Red.” Medical emergency. Read more ›

Call to prayer & pastoral prayer

June 10, 2018

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Call to Prayer

I visited my friend Ralph while he was plowing the community garden with his shovel. The garden helped to supply a small neighborhood lunch program offered by his church. I looked at the tools of his work. He’d used the same tools for so many years that they subtly shaped themselves to the contours of his hand. The tools welcomed his hands, allowing their full heft and grip to attune with his body.

Perhaps that is what happens in prayer. We are becoming one instrument, shaped by practices made holy by divine forces, plied into plowing the ground beneath us, praying with body and soul for a good harvest. Read more ›

Imagine This

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
(Excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from work as a prison chaplain.)

            Forty inmates lined up for smudging to enter the sacred circle for the Native American prayers. I spotted Genaro and a little alarm went off in my head. “Genaro, can I talk to you for a minute?” He smiled and nodded.

            The shade of the building sheltered us from the blistering noonday sun and got us out of hearing range of the other men. “Genaro, you know that you must either go into the circle to smoke the pipe, or stay outside the circle by yourself. Last week I noticed that another guy sat with you outside the circle. If custody staff sees that, they assume you’re passing tobacco.” Read more ›

Call to the Table

Remembering Hugh Thompson, US Army helicopter pilot who stopped the My Lai massacre

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It is difficult to look at the suffering of people. But during the My Lai massacre there was an American soldier who looked. He was a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson. From his copter he saw the bodies of men, women and children on the ground dead and wounded. He realized that something horrific was going on. He then saw some people hiding in a bunker, cowering. He saw advancing American soldiers.

He landed his helicopter between the Americans and the Vietnamese. He told the Americans that if they opened fire on the Vietnamese, then his crew would stop them, and open fire on them.

Right: Hugh Thompson (at left) greeted by a Vietnamese women whose life he saved when he intervened to stop the US massacre of civilians in My Lai, 16 March 1968, on Thompson's trip back to My Lai in 1998.
Read more ›

Hope Remains

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
(excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from work as a prison chaplain)

            As I greeted the men at the door for the midweek Christian service I was surprised to see Blake, a regular in the Wiccan group.

            “Chap, I didn’t come for the service. I came to see you. I gotta see you now.” Read more ›