Friday, March 08, 2013

    Lent Ideas for Youth Ministry 2013: Prayers of Michel Quoist

    Ever been challenged spiritually by prayers written by someone else? I've been experiencing just that recently while reading through a book of prayers written by Michel Quoist, a French Catholic priest and scholar who died in 1997. 

    His 1956 text Prayers of Life (written when he was 33) reads like conversations between us and God, touching on the most basic and gritty elements of every day life rather than being lost in lofty, intangible spiritual ether. 

    From a working class background, Quoist spent much of his early pastoral career as a youth chaplain and he remained committed to working with youth and young adults throughout his life as a priest.  This commitment may explain why his written prayers still speak so vibrantly to the way young people often are so sensitive to the vast needs in the world around them yet also struggle with the tension between the call to serve and the comforts of our consumerist culture. Take for example this prayer excerpt (which I've updated slightly for more inclusive language):

    Lord, why did you tell me to love all people?
    I have tried, but I come back to you frightened.
    Lord, I was so peaceful at home, I was so comfortably settled.
    I was sheltered from the wind and rain; I would have stayed unsullied in my ivory tower.
    But, Lord you have discovered a breach in my defenses.
    You have forced me to open the door of my heart.
    The first came in, Lord. There was, after all, a bit of space in my heart.
    I welcomed them. I would have cared for them as my very own little lambs, my flock.
    You would have been pleased, Lord; I would have served and honored you in a proper and respectable way.
    Until then, it was sensible.
    But the next ones, Lord, the others – I had not seen them, they were hidden behind the first ones.
    There were more of them. They were wretched; they overpowered me without warning.

    I shared this and another related Quoist prayer with our youth recently and they really responded to the language, the imagery, and the challenge inherent within the simple words.   These prayers could certainly be used as a regular way to open or close your weekly time together, as part of a night focused on prayer, or even as an outlet to encourage your teens to work together to write similar prayers that focus on the reality of God in their daily lives filled with bus rides and textbooks, sports, music rehearsals, after school jobs, dating and fears about the future.  

    Perhaps most helpful for Lent, Prayers of Life could be used to connect youth with Jesus' own 40 day struggle in the wilderness to discern what God was really calling him to do and be.  In addition, the text includes an entire section entitled "Prayers on the Way to the Cross," complete with scriptures and meditations to lead your group in an exploration of the last days and hours of Jesus' life.