We're grateful for the original pic from MTSOFan.
At my first National Youth Workers Convention more than a decade ago, I was overwhelmed at the vast array of resources I saw at the convention lobby, books stacked up on top of each other looking like a Tower of Babel painting from an illustrated Bible. The Exhibit Hall was like a market except the exhibitors politely haggled their ideas unlike the medina hagglers in Casablanca (plus they give you free samples and you can maybe win a raffle prize—I didn’t). But, most of the freebies I received from different youth ministries were left untouched in my office.
What I did take away happened in a restful, contemplative mini-retreat in one of the afternoon workshop sessions.
It was more my style, something similar to what we were doing in our home youth group. Over the years, that more minimalist approach has continued to evolve as I explore and study the Christian contemplative spiritual practices.
What seemed like a lack of resources at my church growing up formed in me, albeit unintentionally, a pseudo-desert spirituality (if you can call it that). What then seemed like doing “nothing” was actually doing a great thing. It was minimalist, a “less is more” approach.
The mindset was that where there is less, there is more; where there is none, there is some.
The philosophy embraced the idea that whatever is in front of us is what we have and this is what we use. It was an inexhaustible and sustainable spirituality practice.
These contemplative, minimalist practices mirror the early Christians who fled to the desert hoping to escape the decadence and temptations of the city and be holy. They soon found out that they brought the city with them. Because escape was trickier than they imagined, they learned contemplative prayer practices like Prayer of the Heart and the Jesus Prayer to counter temptations that started in their thoughts. They tried to practice the presence of Jesus in whatever they were doing.
Imagine the boredom and dread the desert can bring and then picture the minds of young people today in the desert of existential dread without any tools to cope, without contemplative prayer practices that are powerful enough to fight the enemy. That dread would be able to grow in the emptiness of the soul. Students without these prayer tools are much more likely to succumb to spiritual ailments like acedia, ennui, depression, and suicide.
This pseudo-desert spirituality can be appealing for our youth today because its contemplative practices enable us to face the daily existential dread. When give them the right tools, we can teach them that wherever they are, they can find God—because wherever they are, God is. In a desert of the mind, they can find rest in God.
We need to train our youth today in the prayer tools that the early sesert fathers and monks used. Contemplative, apophatic prayers (wordless prayer) is beyond imagination, beyond words and beyond imagery. If we are to disciple our youth in off-beat, charismatic monastics, we need to go beyond the early contemplative prayer practices. We need to use lectio divina, centering prayer, prayer of examen, just to name to a few. As youth pastors, we need to cultivate the artist, mystic, curator, docent, guide, and soul companion in our students
Archie Honrado has been serving NYWC for the last nine years as a spiritual director, prayer chapel curator, and guide for the city prayer walks, and was a member of the YS Soul Shaper Board. Archie's ecumenical background gives him a distinct perspective on 21st century spirituality in North America. Archie has been a member of Youth With a Mission since 1984, and is currently a spiritual director for Urban Youth Workers Institute in Los Angeles.
At NYWC Atlanta, Archie will be leading a guided city prayer walk, a discussion on praying with Victor Hugo and Les Miserables, and praying with Vincent Van Gogh. There's still time to join us! Visit NYWC.com for more info.
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.