On behalf of our youth, families, and leaders, I am thrilled to announce that this July we will pilgrimage to St. Meinrad Archabbey for a monk-led exploration of the relationship between prayer and social justice.
This plan arose from our youth community’s sense that though there is much we would change about our world, it is hard to know where to begin: where to lend our voices, how to be of meaningful service. That uncertainty can lead, as we all know, to a kind of paralysis: I long to contribute, but if I cannot discern a clear starting point I may just feel lost and overwhelmed.
It also arises from our discomfort with the false division between prayer and activism. Culturally, even as Christians, we often perceive these concepts as limited and dichotomous. We treat prayer as something incidental or ornamental – an aside from our lived reality – and activism as something we do on the outside, for others, and not for ourselves. We rarely allow ourselves to see prayer and activism as deeply connected to one another, and to the very work of being human. When tragedies occur, we often first hear a call for prayer, and then a call to do something. We submit that this division is worrisome, inaccurate, and even dangerous. We submit that prayer is doing something, and that doing something is prayer.
As baptized Christians, we are called to minister. In our youth group this year, we are especially reflective about the origin of this call because we have been privileged to witness the baptism of one of our members, and we will witness that of another at the Vigil on Saturday. In our baptismal covenant, we promise that with God’s help we will continue in the prayer life of the apostles. We also promise to seek and serve Christ in those around us, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And we vow to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We enter into this covenant with God, and then we set about the work of understanding what it means: how these promises relate to one another, and how they call us to live.
In Being Christian, Rowan Williams reminds us that “baptism does not confer on us a status that marks us off from everybody else. To be able to say, ‘I’m baptized’ is not to claim an extra dignity, let alone a sort of privilege that keeps [us] separate from and superior to the rest of the human race, but to claim a new level of solidarity with other people….To be a Christian is to be affected – you might even say contaminated – by the mess of humanity.” In baptism we are made clean, Williams goes on to say. But we are also, ironically, “pushed into the middle of a human situation that…will not leave us untouched or unsullied.” As baptized Christians, we know this paradox, even as we struggle to understand what it means. And so our St. Luke’s youth have chosen this pilgrimage. We will learn from and amongst Benedictine monks, whose life work is to pray for the world. We will strive to perceive the action that arises from that work of prayer, and to understand as well the inverse: that when enacted on behalf of Christ, activism is a way of praying.
Prayer moves us. In mystery and with no regard for our ability to comprehend it, prayer moves the world. It can happen in stillness, in darkness, in quiet communion with God. It can also happen in movement: in “the middle of a [messy] human situation.” As a youth community, we long to understand the interplay between prayer and activism, and how that interplay might guide us as we grow into ourselves, and into our baptismal covenant. We long to grasp our communion with God, with one another, with all the company of saints, and with an unjust and sometimes devastating world not as disparate pieces of our lived experience, but as a unified path towards wholeness.
Thank you for your prayerful support of these young parishioners. It is a privilege to serve them as they explore this vital, complex, and substantive work. I know they will have much to teach us on the other side of this journey.