Contemplative Prayer: Marginalizing Urban Youth?

Youth Specialties
May 19th, 2014

Pablo Otaola (@PabloOtaola) is a new friend to YS but has a long history working with urban youth. We're excited to share his thoughts on contemplative prayer and how it translates to students in an urban setting. The post below was originally shared on 33vii.com

Original photo from Stegan Georgi

Contemplative Prayer: Marginalizing Urban Youth?

Prayer. Is. Everything. I truly believe that. I sincerely believe that when people face a tough situation and say, “What else can I do? I did everything I could,” and they have not prayed, they have actually not done everything that they could. I’m sure you’ve heard that and more about prayer. However, on this post, I want to focus on contemplative prayer.

We read and hear about books on nurturing and developing contemplative prayer all the time; at least I do.

I’ve heard my pastor preach on it. I’ve taken seminary courses which were actually called “Contemplative Prayer”. We also hear about all of those times when Jesus or other prominent Biblical figures left the people and went into a quiet place.

Contemplative prayer is a great thing. I try to develop my times alone with Jesus. I try to get away from everyday life in order to be alone with Jesus, to have an opportunity to hear from the Lord.

But here’s my struggle and question as I do Urban Youth Ministry:

Am I marginalizing my youth by the way I teach about contemplative prayer?

The context in which we usually read about contemplative prayer is most often the context of Jesus’ biblical times. Life was slower and the desert was easily accessible thus being rather opposite to the urban lifestyle and context.

Life in the urban context is most often in-your-face, hard, fast and loud. This context is nothing like the “country-like” context of the 1st Century Jew. The 1st Century Jewish context actually reminds me more of the country life that we now see in some areas of the United States.

The urban context can contain some cultural barriers to finding a space to “get away.”

The books that I read are usually written by people of some financial means. People that didn’t grow up in the urban context. People that have the privilege of mobility through cars, money, and a network of people that have “beach houses” that they can borrow in order to “get away”. I’m sure you are thinking, “I WISH I had all those resources at my disposal.”

As an urban youth ministry leader, you know that nurturing a contemplative and quiet prayer life cannot be fully accomplished by doing what most books today say to do. We just don’t have the money or mobility to do so. And even if we do, our youth usually don’t.

What do we do with this?

How do we teach our urban youth, and even ourselves to nurture contemplative prayer without marginalizing our youth into thinking this is impossible or at least highly improbable?

Read a follow up post from Pablo with more of his thoughts on contemplative prayer at 33vii.com: CLICK TO VIEW

Pablo Otaola is on staff at Denver Young Life and lead the development of the ministry in Southwest Denver. Prior to that, Pablo served as Area Director in Chicago’s Northwest side as well as the Young Life Midwest Divisional Latino Representative. Connect with Pablo on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn, and Instagram.

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.