Contemplative Prayer: City of Refuge


This is the second post of a two part series on contemplative prayer addressing the question: “Am I marginalizing my youth by the way I teach about contemplative prayer?”

My journey took me from an immigrant family context into a wealthy, mostly White college experience in an upper class community of Santa Barbara, California. I had the space and time to nurture my contemplative prayer life in that college context.

For 4 years I took the time to listen to the Lord. That time was more about the discipline. I needed to sit and listen to the Lord in a quiet place early in the morning. In 2009, I took a youth ministry job in the inner city of Chicago.

My life changed dramatically.

Life quickly became loud, fast, and I had little space for quiet, since sirens passed by every 15 to 20 minutes. There were no quiet beaches any longer. I couldn’t think about a contemplative prayer life the same way I did. I couldn’t nurture it in the same manner.

I was left longing for a place like Santa Barbara. Before I knew it, I began believing that getting out of the city was the only way to have a contemplative prayer life. I was wrong.

I needed a paradigm shift.

I realized that a quiet place DOES NOT necessarily mean a place out of the city. Mark 1:35 shows Jesus in a city. He didn’t escape to the desert but to a quiet place. I also realized that the Lord wants cities to be places of refuge and shalom (e.g. Joshua 20).

If I have to leave the city to find peace and rest, then what I’m saying is, “peace and rest can’t be found in the city.” That’s not what the scripture shows.

If our mindset is that cities can be places of shalom, then we can begin to look for quiet places in the city neighborhoods. We can begin to look for places where we  can nurture our contemplative prayer life.

Currently, a place of contemplative prayer is in my car, right before work or in my office before people get there.

I imagine that teens can find places and time to nurture contemplative prayer. Maybe it’s in a bus on the way to school. Maybe it’s their walk to school. It can be hard because of the noise and the lack of space. Or worse yet, the constant tension of encountering gangs like my Young Life teens in Chicago.

I would venture to say that the Lord desires to point out peaceful places for us urbanites. Urban youth leaders can be the ones that can help teens discover these places of refuge.

So I leave you with a question:

How have you felt marginalized when you hear teachings on contemplative prayer life; and how can you redeem this area of our faith so that your youth don’t feel marginalized but begin to engage in contemplative prayer?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Kaleb Nyquist

    Oh, great topic! I do youth ministry on the north side of Chicago and have actually been considering adding a monthly “spiritual practice” / “contemplative prayer” night to our regular rotation of youth group programming — which would include creating a quiet space within the church building. Probably will need to cite this post somewhere down the road. :)

    I would add that the problem of finding a “quiet space” is not just a challenge for urban youth, but also for any youth with a smartphone. Creating “quiet spaces” might also be, in a different sense, an important priority for engaging youth who are more introverted than our typical “loud and wild” style of youth ministry programming assumes.

    (And, on a personal note as a Oregon-to-Chicago transplant, this is a skill I’m cultivating for myself as well).

    • Muta

      What’s up Kaleb thanks for reading! I agree, our students don’t know how to unplug, especially with/from technology. Your comment about the church building reminds me of a friend who holds a fast at her church for her students. It’s overnight and for some of the night they have games, activities and such. The sanctuary/main worship area is the quite room. Eventually the evening ends with a retreat into that room for an extended time of prayer, communing with God and sleep. I think this is a great idea.

  • adele calhoun

    Anyone young (or old) with a cell phone. Anyone with FOMO (fear of missing out) tendencies. Anyone who lives the 24/7 life…. finds it virtually impossible to STOP. The benefits of stopping — can we begin there. Is that easier than heading into contemplative prayer.

    • Muta

      Adele, you’re right. Starting with the benefits of slowing down is essential. If a student does not know the effects of not slowing down or why they should slow down, how can we get them to embrace contemplative prayer. That’s why I think we need a double prong approach and not either/or. Great thoughts though!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers