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? In my next post, I will give a quick explanation of where I am currently at in this process.

Question: How do you “get away” to pray? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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  • Muta

    Great post Pablo. I agree with you wholeheartedly! It’s a tough balance teaching contemplative prayer (or contemplative anything) to inner city kids who lead anything but quiet lives. Looking forward to the follow up post.

  • Brad

    I think your right, it is absolutely more of a challenge teaching this discipline to urban kids. Although, I disagree that contemplative prayer requires financial means. Jesus walked to quiet places and so have people for centuries. The hard, fast and loud urban lifestyle requires being still. Otherwise the city is overwhelming.

    Cities are full of parks and green spaces. And although the pretty ones might require a bike or bus ride to get to, the intentionality of the journey to be still can be learned and enjoyed.

    • Pablo Otaola

      Hi Brad,

      Thanks for your comments. My comment on financial means was more about the privilege of money and mobility than anything else. However, urban teens that I know personally in Chicago actually do not have the financial means to go anywhere so they stay within their neighborhood. And even walking or riding a bike within their own neighborhood often crosses gang lines which makes mobility by bike or walking unsafe. Even though I’m an immigrant I grew up in suburban safe neighborhood and thus my journey as a teen to find contemplative prayer did not contain the lack of safety. I’m not sure if Jesus journey was safe or not but these are definitely things that directly affect how urban teens see the journey to find a place where they can be quiet and listen for the Lord. Thanks again for your thoughts Brad! God Bless.

      • Brad

        Hi Pablo,

        I can empathize with your story.

        The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it applies equally to all. I agree different people will have to overcome different obstacles to be still and know God. For example, a disabled person living in poverty might find this discussion very difficult to digest. A busy person with a net-worth of over a million could equally find contemplative prayer difficult. I don’t think teaching contemplative prayer would marginalize either one. They have been marginalized already (Even the rich person). We know Jesus teaches another way that requires close connection with God. Allowing people an out, because it’s difficult is a disservice. Even Jesus struggled to teach His disciples how to pray.

        I absolutely agree that urban teens will struggle finding a quiet place. I spent ten years working with teens in inner-city Houston. As leaders teaching prayer, we just had to get creative. The teens and leaders I know are facing the same obstacles that your friends in Chicago are facing (It’s just less windy). Sometimes I think we believe that yesteryear was safer. I’m sure Jesus’ journey was equally dangerous, because Simon Peter carried a sword while traveling with Jesus (John 18:10). Ironically today is Good Friday, the day Jesus was tortured and executed.

        I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, at least no more than the drama that our friends face daily. And I believe that is exactly why contemplative prayer is vital to knowing God. We haven’t been told, be still and know that I am God except when it’s difficult or we could get hurt. No, we’ve been told “Be still and know that I am God” and that requires risk on several levels.

        • Pablo Otaola

          Hey Brad – Great reply. Thanks for sharing. You made me laugh with your “less windy” comment :) Thanks for bringing up the dangers that Jesus faced in the desert and maybe even in cities. “Peter carried a sword” – I loved that detail. And for the record, you’re not being overly dramatic :) Blessings to you!

  • Pingback: Contemplative Prayer: City of Refuge | 33Seven()


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