This article is from the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Reflections magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.
by the Rev. Scott Brown
What makes an environment suitable for prayer? Where do you need to be in order to be fully present to the presence of God in prayer? Some prefer a quiet chapel and an Anglican Rosary; others long for a labyrinth in which to walk and pray, while others search for a garden or a quiet spot to meditate and reflect in solitude. But not me! I’ll save the silence for sleep. I prefer my prayer to start in the company of 300 squiggling and screaming children, better known as St. Alban’s Episcopal Day School daily chapel.
Daily School Chapel is the foundation for life on our campus. Every chapel is different at St. Alban’s. On some days we sing more than others; once a week we hear a homily, and other days classes act out a Scripture story. And while each day brings a different form to our worship, one thing every day has in common is energy, life, and noise. Lots of noise.
Worshiping with children is real. It’s authentic. There are no masks, no worries, nothing held back. When children are allowed to be children, God shows up and smiles.
And while children can be amazingly naïve, maybe naïveté is the thing we as adults could use a little more of. What risks would you take today if you were unaware of the potential consequences? Consider the prayers of children. Children ask and say anything without fear. For most of us adults, fear holds us back from even beginning the conversation. I learned this from an eight-year-old named Aspen, who recently told me, “If you don’t know what to say, just hold your hands together, close your eyes, and start talking.”
But make sure your prayer doesn’t start with your own personal wish list. As 10-year-old Constantine said, “You should always talk to God about any conflicts you have, but first start with praying for others. That way God doesn’t think you’re selfish.”
In the mind of a child, there is nothing too big or too small to ask God for.
Children believe that God is all-powerful and can do absolutely anything. And it’s that confidence in the power of God that gives children the ability to trust in the goodness of God.
But what about those unanswered prayers, those times when you have opened your heart and soul to God and yet nothing happened, at least not the way you wanted it to? How do we as adults wrestle with that? Ten-year-old Nate can answer that one for you: “Maybe you were asking for things you really want. God cares much more about what you actually need.”
But most of all, children keep prayer simple. In prayer, adults often struggle for words, unsure of what they should be saying. Children are honest, simple, and hold nothing back.
Ask an adult why we should pray and they’ll likely ramble on about duty or obligation or some memorized Catechism response from the back of their minds. Adults answer those kinds of questions with their heads — children use their hearts.
When I asked four-year-old Alexandria why she prayed, she didn’t hesitate. “Father Scott, you’re silly. I pray to Jesus because I love him.”
How much simpler would my day be if I prayed more like the children I am surrounded by? How much richer would my life be if my prayer life was centered on closing my eyes, being thankful, and talking to the Jesus about others first, simply because I love him?
I’m glad my day is filled with noisy children and restless toddlers. I’m honored to be in the midst of a community in which children are cherished, not just tolerated. But most of all, in a school environment where teaching and learning happens all day long, I’m humbled to start my day with 300 brilliant children, who come together in the God’s House, not to learn how to pray, but rather to teach.
The Rev. Scott Brown is rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church and School in Harlingen, TX. He is also the father of two young boys. Reach him at email@example.com.