Coming into Lasallian Volunteers, I wanted to look for new ways to deepen my faith. I figured that being in community with Christian Brothers and serving at a Catholic school would do the trick to continuously feel God’s presence in my life; something I longed for. But while these settings have done a great deal for me– daily mass and evening prayer with the Brothers, morning reflection and masses at the Academy– I have come to realize this year that I have to put in a little more effort on my end, rather than just “being” somewhere. I have to pray on my own time.
Before my second year as a Lasallian Volunteer I considered myself a “prayer.” Like any healthy workout routine, I would say that I prayed about 4-5 nights a week. The problem was; however, I was praying snuggled up in bed with my eyes closed. I started off my prayers strong, but would either doze off or subconsciously change my thoughts as time went on. Not very focused at all. So, when my second year started, and I felt a greater distance from God than the year before, I knew I needed to change my ways. It sounds cheesy, but I have started kneeling beside my bed each night. Yep, the way we’ve seen little kids do it in the movies. That’s me now. And let me tell you– it’s helped. Kneeling against my bed has made me more aware of what I am actually saying to God. No more dozing off, no more wandering thoughts. In order to get into my beloved bed, a devoted prayer must be said. To actually feel myself having a conversation with the Lord Our God; that is powerful to me.
But praying isn’t always about having a conversation. It is also about listening. This year I have also picked up the practice of mediation. Personally, listening to God is so much more difficult than speaking to Him. But it is the peace of mind and the focus of that “I am in the holy presence of God” that really makes it a form of prayer for me. As mediation guru Brother Camillus says, “The most important journey you can ever take is the internal journey of meditation where you will discover the benefit for yourself.” Knowing the positive effects mediation has on the mind, body, and spirit, I decided to bring it into my 5th grade Guidance class. They LOVE it. It surprised me just how much each 5th grader looks forward to meditating each time we meet Wednesday afternoon. For about 15 minutes in the beginning of each class, we listen to the words of Brother Camillus. (Can you tell I’m a fan of his yet?) As a class, we hold the proper posture, close our eyes, and even turn off the lights. For a whole 15 minutes, sixteen 5th graders do not move or speak. It’s fabulous. But it is because they know this is a form of prayer we practice together that they respect this time. We reflect on how they felt before the experience, what they felt during, and how the meditation has helped them to the state they are in now. With Brother Camillus’s assistance, I have witnessed my students “see” Mary and Jesus. They share his meditation page with their families so that they can pray too. They look for meaning in the words of a man who they’ve never met, so that they too can be in the holy presence of God. Now that’s powerful.
But what actually is the power of prayer? How do you explain it? Again, in my second year, an event occurred in our community that made me question: what really is the power of prayer? A recent graduate from De La Salle High School who had gone away to college had slipped and fallen down the stairs while he was cleaning his house. The fall– being as hard as it was– had put the De La Salle alum into a coma. The whole school went into shock. The morning mass that I so often shared with eight people had turned into a mass of dozens of hopefuls, looking for answers during this dark time. They came to pray. The chapel was so full of faculty and students that the high school boys had to sit on the floor. For over a week, my house community shared its Chapel with the school community. We prayed together for this boy; each and every day, hoping that our words and love would save this his life. For two weeks, we gathered, and we heard news of his improvement, until one day I came home from school only to find he was taken off life support. His brain was too damaged beyond repair.
So, if prayer is powerful, how come our efforts weren’t enough? If we know that the end result is either in God’s hands or the force of nature, why do we even bother to pray? Why is prayer powerful? Does it strengthen one’s communication and relationship with God? Does it inspire the youth to seek peace and understanding? Does it bring a community together in the name of hope? Or does it do all three and more? To help end this blog, I looked to our Saint Teresa of Kolkata for quotes on prayer. And I just so happened to find this one: “I used to believe prayer changes things, but now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.” Instead of focusing on what prayer can do for me, I need to focus on what prayer can do to me– to us. Prayers cannot save the world. But it is the prayers we make and how we are moved by those prayers that can. The prayers I make at my bedside can move me to do better tomorrow. Meditation can move my students to hear God when it’s time to listen. And communal prayer can move one to believe in the simple act of hope and the power of love. Those are some powers of prayer.
Abby Michels is a second year LV serving at De La Salle Academy in Concord, California and is a 2015 graduate of Lewis University.