The majority of our youth (and many adults at Highland) are hesitant to pray in front of one another. Invitations for youth to pray are typically met with averted eyes and silence. Our rule is if you volunteer someone else, you have to pray. And often it ends up being me, unless a youth is agreeable when I ask them if they would pray for us.
There are a couple of reasons I suspect are behind this state of things. The first is that on a basic level, we are not practiced enough. Praying on your own and in front of others is the only way to be comfortable doing it. I certainly don’t pray as much as I should. So, I get that. Second, which I also definitely understand, is that we are not exactly sure what prayer means or does. Basically, we cannot always easily answer the question of “what’s the point?”
Does God grant our prayers like wishes? Can we do anything extra to ensure our prayers are granted? If my prayers aren’t “answered” does that mean I’m doing something wrong?
I don’t think the answer to these questions is yes, but after that, it gets interesting. Between the two extremes of “prayer is futile” and “prayers are granted to those who believe,” the truth of prayer is more complicated and elusive than we might have known. Here are some thoughtful reflections that have come out of a recent conversation with our youth:
– Prayer changes us.
– Prayer deepens our faith.
– Prayer connects us with others.
– Prayer opens up new possibilities with God in concert with our conscience. But we must choose.
I think our youth are right about each of these and that they get us closer to what is true about when we pray. “Life is arbitrary,” Dr. Frank Tupper once told me, “but, God is not.” I think he must be right, alongside our youth. But what does this mean for us when we pray?
Well, it means we believe prayer is something as mysterious as it is invaluable, and we are turning toward it as a means of supporting one another, rather than as a personal wish list. By voicing and hearing our concerns for ourselves, those we know, and the world, we bear witness to one another and carry life’s ebbs and flows, together, with God. We also open ourselves to what otherwise might be impossible. So, our youth are learning the Friday Church way on Wednesday Nights: a communal practice of what tradition calls the prayers of the people. To vulnerably offer our prayers when we pray, together, may change us if we let God and one another in. I believe these practices are some that would benefit all of us at Highland for the living of these transition days. I am deeply thankful for youth who keep me grounded; they who are both Highland’s present and future.