On a Sunday night in October, the regular worship leaders for high school youth group both had other plans, so I took advantage of the opportunity created by their absence to try something new. I asked students to choose one of about 60 different “breath prayers” I’d created by taking short phrases from Psalm 119. Students worked for 45 minutes on collages of photos, words, colors, and other images cut from magazines while focused on the breath prayers they had selected. My plan was for the collages to give us something to do with our hands in order to cut down on distractions during the time of worship, but many of the finished pieces were complex and beautiful representations of the prayers themselves.
During the exercise, I encouraged students to experience the time of prayer as a time of freedom; so even though I wanted them to have an experience akin to what Alonius called “only myself and God,” I made it clear that getting up for a snack, answering the door for trick-or-treaters, conversation, laughter, simply being together were all completely appropriate activities during our worship experience. Even so, our time together was a time of almost complete silence. Students were completely absorbed in their prayers and their creations. In fact, as parents arrived to pick up their children, many students had trouble finding a clear stopping point. They wanted to continue, longed for completion. Most left in silence.
The next afternoon, I had coffee with one of the students who’d been part of our worship experiment. We discussed homework and parents, music and poetry, philosophy and the Church, all of the usual topics. But we also touched on the proximity of God, the experience of Christ, the power of a phrase both breathed and lived, an experiment with prayer that had changed us both.
the power of a phrase both breathed and lived, an experiment with prayer that had changed us both