The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

October 2, 2008

Talking to Teens

It is never easy. Talking about prayer, particularly silent prayer, is always a challenge. How do you make even remotely reasonable to the average person the possibility that it might be beneficial to spend time just being quiet, letting go of all thoughts and surrendering to God?

The challenge increases exponentially when the audience is a gathering of twenty sixteen and seventeen year old young people. The setting is a fluorescent-lit classroom with stiff-backed tubular desks arranged in uneven rows. The time is 8:30 in the morning. I stand at the front of the class with a green chalk board at my back and look out at fresh young faces. These are lovely, intelligent, energetic young people. They are clean, well-dressed, well-fed, well-mannered, obviously well-cared-for. They are in every way privileged young people. But behind their shiny exteriors their eyes look glazed and tired.

I must not take it personally, I suppose. Even before I begin to speak two young men have their heads down on their desks; they appear to be fast asleep. As the teacher introduces me, I notice one young woman sitting against the back wall, obviously busy at work on the homework she labours over for the entire hour and fifteen minutes I speak. Two young women chat at the back and one young woman is clearly entertaining the silent attentivness of the young man beside her. Even the students who seem to be mildly paying attention, do not seem really engaged. They look trapped. Everything about the language of their bodies says they do not really want to be here.

What can I possibly say to these young people that might suggest to them that they seriously consider sitting for twenty minutes twice a day in silent prayer?

I draw a dot on the lefthand end of the chalk board behind me. "Every life," I say "begins at a particular moment in time." Then I walk to the other end of the board and draw a vertical line. "And every life has a particular moment when it comes to an end." The few students who are actually looking at me, look blank, unintereted, bewildered. Haven't I just stated the most obvious fact of life, a boring reality they all know perfectly well?

I go on to talk about the fact that for most people between the moment of beginning and the moment of ending, life unfolds along a narrow horizontal access on which they experience a series of events that make them feel either happy or sad. The purpose of life for most people is to try to maximize the happy moments and minimize the sad mometns. If when they get to the end the chart of their lives has more happy faces than sad faces, their lives are judged to have been a success.

I stop and look out at the faces sitting in the desks before me. They do not look paritcularly happy, or particularly sad. They do not look hostile or antagonistic. They look blank. I want to shake their world a little bit, help them to consider the possibility that there may be more to life than this single horizontal-line, happy-face, sad-face scenario suggests.

I read words of Jesus in which he tells his followers not to be anxious about their lives and concludes with the question, "Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" (Matthew 5:25) Prayer is opening to this "more than" dimension. In prayer we open to the possibility that there are other realms of existence than just the horizontal access along which things happen to us and we define ourselves by what we do, what we accomplish, and how others respond to us. In prayer we open to the depth dimension of life in which we become conscious of the reality of God permeating every aspect of existence.

I leave the school after my presentation wondering if anything I have said has connected with that deep place I believe exists in each of these young people.

On my way back to the church, I stop at our local coffee shop and reward myself for my labours with a 16oz, extra hot, no foam, skim milk latte. I have been in this coffee shop three times this week. The young woman who serves me has dark straight hair, black eye make-up and a tiny silver ring in the middle of her bottom lip. She is beginning to recognize my face. She smiles warmly this morning and says, "Hi my name is Meghan." I reply "Hi Meghan." And then, to keep the conversation going, add, "Boy the parking is getting bad around here." "Oh that doesn't bother me," she says, "I ride my bike. I'ld be scared to be in control of a big heavy fast moving metal object. And anway I figure riding my bike is good for the environment."

Meghan is probably twenty; she is animated, warm, pleasant, and friendly. We chat a little longer and I leave with my coffee. There is something warm and gentle in our exchange. I have connected more in this brief encounter with Meghan than I have in seventy-five minutes talking about prayer with twenty captive young people. This connection is prayer.

Prayer is a stance towards life. Prayer challenges me to stay open to whatever is going on in each moment of my day. It invites me to remain connected.

Standing before a class of twenty young people is an opportunity for prayer. Talking to the young woman serving me coffee is an opportunity for prayer. Prayer happens if I can only stay open. If I can only stay connected to that deeper part of myself in which I am conscious of the presence of the living God, then I will be able to fulfill Paul's instruction to "pray without ceasing." (I Thessalonians 5:17)

The prayer question is not, what was going on with those twenty young people to whom I spoke this morning. The truth is I know absolutely nothing about their lives or what they may or may not have heard in my words. The prayer question is, what is going on in me. Am I choosing in this moment to allow my life to be a prayer? Am I choosing to open and soften towards life and towards the people and events of this moment?

To make my life a prayer is to choose openness no matter what is going on. To make my life a prayer is to give up evaluating, judging and assessing every person, event and every circumstance. To make my life a prayer is to recognize that everything that comes to me is an opportunity to open more deeply to God and to an awareness of God's loving presence at the heart of all existence.

Learning to open is the purpose of silent prayer. Opening to the reality of the divine in all of life is the path to my true nature as a human being. I was created for something more than simply the horizontal axis of events, circumstances and people that fill my life. It is not important whether those young people in that classroom heard a word I said. It is only important that I come away from that experience with a heart that is open and a spirit that is surrendered to God. Then the deepest prayer of my heart will be answered; I will know that God is present. I will discover the meaning and purpose of my life. I will experience my true destiny as a being called to join God in creating an open space for the work and presence of God's Spirit.

1 comment:

Rob Holloway said...

I'd imagine talking to any young group in what they think is a trapped situation to hear a speaker they do not know is difficult. Especialy when the subject is of a spirtual nature.

Silent prayer for twenty minutes, yup, that can be hard. the lesson I see is as Christopher states , be tuned to what Christ would have you do in the moment. Arrow prayer is where you can chat with Christ, listen and say, what would you have me do at this moment Lord.