I never thought I’d see a religious education class end with half a dozen 10-year-old boys pounding fists on their table, feet stomping rhythmically, chanting their demand for . . . meditative prayer. You can blame Loyola Press.
The backstory: In 2007 our parish and several others in the area adopted the Finding God textbook series. Loyola Press sent down presenters for our deanery’s catechist formation day that year, and for several years after. One of the highlights of the morning keynote presentation was always time spent in meditative prayer.
The prayer leader walked us through the process of settling down and connecting with God, proposed some prayer conversation-starters, then gave us time to silently speak with Jesus and to listen to Him. Loyola Press’s 3-Minute-Retreat Page teaches you how it works. Go give one a try — we learn to pray by praying!
What is meditative prayer? You might be getting nervous now — this isn’t one of those woozy new-age things, is it? Absolutely not. What we’re talking about here is quiet time spent in personal reflection, connecting with God one-on-one. The Rosary is a classic example of a guided reflection: We can take each mystery, put ourselves into the scene, and just look and see what God has to show us there. Lectio Divina is meditative prayer focused on the words of scripture.
In our fifth grade class, we’ve done meditations built around the words of the Apostle’s Creed, the Way of the Cross, the words of a prayer on CD (I use Hide Me In Your Wounds by John C. Hathaway), or time spent listening to a prayerful hymn. Our text book includes a prayer service at the end of each chapter, and sometimes I’ve used that, either verbatim or as a jumping-off point.
How does it work in the classroom? We start the class with short opening prayers, and then teach a regular lesson. At the end of class, we clean-up. Then the kids each pick a spot to sit down, relax, and pray. We light candles and turn off the overhead lights. And then we pray.
We had to work through a few glitches. At the start of the year, we had to be both solemn and reassuring — many students had never prayed this way, and were worried, skeptical, or inclined to make fun of the whole thing. I’ve had background-music CD’s that inspired more giggles than prayers. I discovered there’s a real knack for reading the body-language of the class, and closing the prayer before anyone gets restless and ends the session of their own initiative.
I’ve used meditative prayer with all ages, but not with all students. We’ve incorporated reflective prayer into our vacation Bible school programs, where classes are mixed-ages from kindergarten to teens. Even the littlest children can enjoy and appreciate time to close the eyes, turn on the imagination, and spend time with Jesus.
But I’ve also had groups of students that didn’t seem ready for settled-down, silent prayer. A physically-active meditation, such as saying a decade of the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy worked well for those students.
How about you? What kind of prayer do you use in the classroom? Is there something you’d like to try in the coming year? What resources have you found helpful? I’d love to hear from you.