Saturday, February 26, 2011

    Creating A Life of Prayer: Prayer as Muscle Memory

    Over the next few weeks, as we get closer to Lent, we’ll be sharing a series of posts on prayer. Our hope is that these conversations will deepen not only your prayer life, but also the prayer lives of the youth you work with on a daily basis.

    Lately, I've been drawn to the sport of rock climbing. I am just a beginner. But I'm starting to understand the different terms and techniques: sport, trad, bouldering, belaying, on-belay, off-belay, ratings, carabiners, quick draws, dynamic, static...the list goes on and on. But here's what I'm also starting to understand. Once you have done a particular route several times, the route becomes easier and easier. At the start of a moderately hard route, I fall often--quite often to tell the truth. But I know that my climbing buddy will safely catch me and that, as long as we are careful with safety, I have nothing to worry about. As I practice the climb more and more, I eventually am able (hopefully) to climb the route without falling back on the rope. After a few falls and mistakes, the moves become more natural. My body movements feel less forced and more free.

    Prayer is the same way. I remember that when I first studied Christian Spirituality I was overwhelmed with all of the different terms, practices, and techniques. It took me a while to learn the language and methods. Contemplative prayer never comes as easy as I would like. I find it hard to sit still, to be serene, and to contemplate God's presence in my life. I find it difficult to do this for more than ten or twenty minutes at a time. Yet, when I practice contemplative prayer on a regular basis it becomes more and more natural, less forced. It is almost as if the prayer becomes a part of my daily routine. My mind responds to the memory of praying, just as my muscles respond to the memory of a particular rock climbing route.

    Of course, one cool way to teach this to your youth would be to take them out climbing or to a climbing gym. Climb the same route several times and explain how it gets easier each time. If you do this activity, make sure you have a professional guide with you who can really show and teach you what to do (make sure you use all of the proper safety equipment). But another way to emphasize this point is to simply have ten minutes of contemplative prayer each time you meet with your youth. I guarantee that after several months of this if you don't have a quiet time set aside for prayer, your youth will ask you why.

    How about you? How are you teaching your youth to pray?