MOLLY HALTER Teaching teens can bear fruit
Life is humbling, especially a life that involves teaching youth. God invented humility. His son, Jesus, experienced its crushing agony. Is this how he became humble, trying to share the Good News with the stubborn human lot, I wonder?
I felt I had brought home two valuable prayer methods from my stay at the Abbey of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Ga., namely, that of Lectio Divina, sacred reading, and Centering Prayer.
Lectio Divina involves reading a Scripture passage several times meditatively, letting the words speak to you deeply, making of them a prayer back to God, then resting in God's presence.
Centering Prayer is the practice in which a person sits quietly focused on God. It is not prayer with words but that of silently attending to God's loving presence and being open to God's work of transformation within oneself.
The monastery abbot, Father Basil Pennington, calls these devices "a portable monastery," prayer tools one can take and use anywhere. Abbot Pennington, besides his writings on this subject, along with Thomas Keating and others, taught and practiced these prayer methods with our diverse Protestant group. He encouraged us in their continued personal use and for us to teach them to others, as well, for they easily cross inter-religious boundaries. Good idea, I thought, as the two methods certainly deepened my life of prayer.
Teaching Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer to a class of 20 14-year-olds, however, is a humbling thing.
First, you wonder if they are awake before you begin, then you feel sure that many are not, though their eyes are open, after you start.
Class opens with prayer. I proceed by saying, "Although we are 'on the go' with the things of life, there is within each of us a quiet side. This quiet side wants to take time to pause and reflect on what it is we are doing, have done, or where we are going." I explain to the class, "This is our human spirit within each of us, wanting to be in harmony with the Holy Spirit. Like an internal computer constantly seeking a balance between doing and being, the Holy Spirit scans what we do and think, searches for 'viruses' -- sin -- and for meaning and truth. The Spirit seeks to detect a pattern that is either conforming to God's will for our lives or to alert us if it is not."
A few students watch me; I wonder what they are thinking of my crazy spirit/computer analogy. Others are reading the handouts or just looking bored. I pray as I talk, then show a video clip on contemplative spirituality as practiced by the monks and how it is a practical tool for Christian use everywhere in today's world. The video finished, I ask for questions. One student says he didn't know monks still wore robes. Another thought all monks were Buddhists. We talk a little about those things.
Next, I take a silent gulp and refer to the Lectio Divina and Centering Prayer handouts. I guide them through those activities. They comply but seem indifferent. When I ask for questions no one speaks. Still sounding upbeat and positive, I close with prayer. They get up and walk by me. I say goodbye to each, saying their names as they go, thanking them for opening their minds and hearts to new ways in which they may attend to deepening their relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Not one student smiles, thanks me, or says "see ya." The message is, "One more boring confirmation class over and done with."
I sit and feel like a complete fool. Is this how your son, felt, God?
Most times it is not so bad. Maybe teaching about praying and prayer was too much for this day, too deep. Trusting God, believing seeds are planted that God will bring to fruition, yet I know I may never live to see the fruit of Christian maturity in the students. Still, I thank God for the opportunity, discouraging as it is sometimes, to plant spiritual seeds.
Evidence of impact
There is a special time of year, however, when evidence of spiritual fruit in some of my former students becomes happily apparent. It happens on Christmas Eve at church. The college kids are home from school, there that evening at church with their families. The lovely candlelight service concludes and a crush of people flood the narthex. I stand and greet them as they pass by. Then, far back in the pack, I see a face. It is that of a youth I taught five or six years ago in confirmation. My, how she has grown! Her face brightens when our eyes meet. So does mine. She finally makes it to where I am standing. She is happy to see me, give me a hug, and says kind things about me and her confirmation class days. She thanks me. Another former students pushes up to me. Then another. It is wonderful.
God blesses me in a special way on Christmas Eve. Somewhere between the beginning of high school and the end of college the interior lights turn on in many of my former students; one "ah-ha" moment, or several. For those whom God has given me the opportunity to teach and for those whom God sent to teach and guide me, I am truly humble and grateful. The spiritual seed spreads roots, grows, and hope abides.
XMolly Halter is a sacred storyteller. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.