Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, May 19, 2014

Children and Prayer: Introduction and Disclaimers



There’s a project I’ve been working on for a while.  A long while.  I’ve been keeping notes off and on for a number of years, in fact.  This project is about the importance of children and prayer and the necessity of helping children to cultivate a prayer life. Specifically, I want to share what I’ve found and what others have written about children and prayer.

Before I start, however, there are some disclaimers. 

I’ve been reluctant to share my thoughts for a few reasons.

First and foremost, there are some strong technical reasons working against me.  I’m not a theological scholar and I wouldn’t want even one person to think that I think I am.

Furthermore, I’ve been holding back because I cannot do justice to the topic.  Even if there isn’t a lot out there now, I believe that the subject of children and contemplative prayer could fill a book, or volumes of books.  I cannot write a book.  If I were able to retreat from the world and parse sentences in a silent sanctuary somewhere, perhaps I could write a book.  However, I cannot do this.  Thus, it bothers me to share something in a public forum, without being able to take the time to make it worthy of professional publication.

Even if I were to retreat to the proverbial cabin in the woods, I know that I’d be going through the effort of developing an outline, writing out my thoughts, sharing with the world, only to be evermore finding other ideas, more brilliant quotes from true scholars, and knowing that I shouldn’t have shared before the work could be truly complete.  From the time I first developed this idea, I have learned more about prayer.  If I had shared any of this four years ago, it would have been entirely different from what you are going to read now.  I know that if I were to wait another four years, there would be yet another outcome.  That intimidates me from putting forth incomplete ideas.  [Although a friend recently pointed out that, on a blog, I can always add things and change things.  She’s right!]

In addition to these technical strikes against me are the personal reasons.  I’m reluctant to share because I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying my prayer life is perfect, my kids are perfect, and if you follow my directions, you’ll be perfect like me.  No, no, and no.  My prayer life ideals are inspired by St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux.  In no way do I measure up to these standards on a daily basis. 

Similarly, with my children: our house is a typical home and not a monastery.  We do not pray, work and eat with gently chiming bells calling us to the next activity, each hour of the day.  My kids are great kids, but they aren’t perfect and they have bad days.   We have crazy schedules of dance and sports activities.  Kids need to visit the dentist and the doctor.  They get invited to play at friends’ houses.  They like going to museums, sporting events, on picnics, watching movies and the like.  We are living a typical life.  Meaning: distractions.  

Most importantly, the work a parent does in teaching about prayer and spirituality is more about planting seeds than it is about recording outcomes.  It makes me nervous to share my ideas, knowing that they haven’t yet been proven!  Check in again when my baby is 64 and maybe we can see how well this worked.  

So, that’s my long list of reluctances.  Why am I doing this, nevertheless?

See that paragraph about living a life?  That’s the point.  We are here to cultivate the relationship with God in the midst of the daily activities that we call life.  If children learn from an early age how to cultivate a prayer life amidst the things of childhood, they will hopefully stick with it into adulthood. Or know how to find the path, when they’ve stumbled off it.  I believe that children are natural contemplatives (more on this later), so I believe that they are very receptive to the idea of contemplative prayer, even if you aren’t putting it in theological terms for your six-year-old.

I do believe that I present a unique perspective on the issue of children and contemplative prayer.  In all my searches, I’ve found one person who is writing about this.  There’s an ocean of writing out there about contemplative prayer, sacred silence, and the like, but rarely as it applies to children.

I have an outline I’m working from, so I hope to be disciplined and post once a week.  I’m asking a few friends with knowledge and interest in this topic to give me feedback behind the scenes.  Hopefully this will provide some accountability for me, to keep me from chickening out (again!) and abandoning this whole process. [I’m hoping they will contribute their own ideas in a “guest post” capacity later in this series of writings!]

As a recap, here are my disclaimers:

·         Embarking upon the adventure of writing about children and prayer is much more of a “sharing lessons I’ve learned” than a “mystically inspired, do-as-I-say” manual.  I am still on my spiritual journey; children or other adults who contribute to this are still on a spiritual journey.

·         I do not write out of a belief that I have all the answers.  Ask family and friends who have seen me on an off day: I’m a person who could benefit from taking a deep breath and counting to ten before opening my mouth.  (Hm.  Maybe ask people who don’t like me, too, as they’d tell you the same thing.)

·         I do not write with the implication that my children are perfect.  Nor do I believe that I am able to determine each one of my children’s path to God.  I make suggestions, I offer opportunities; the rest is between God and each one of them.

·         My goal here is to offer a perspective I have not yet found in most writings about children and prayer.

·         My perspective on prayer is one inspired by Carmelite spirituality.  Not everyone is called to Carmel.  However, all charisms, all Christians, are called to union with God.  Thus, each person can benefit from practicing an awareness of the presence of God.

·         I believe that children are natural contemplatives. This isn’t about foisting a monastic life on unwilling young souls. This is about fostering an attribute I believe is already present and God-given.

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