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Unexpected Encounters with Spiritual Boys
December 18, 2009
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — It was October 30, 2009 – All Hallows Eve – and the students of Winnipeg Mennonite Elementary and Middle School (WMEMS) were pulsating with the energy of the season. Some of them had already been to corn mazes and many were anticipating a time of trick-or-treating on the weekend.
To counter the darkness that often surrounds Halloween hype, WMEMS held its first Worship Fair – a day of workshops on topics related to worship and connecting with God.
I had been invited to introduce grade 3-8 children to praying with the 15 foot cloth Labyrinth – a maze-like prayer tool. Symbolic of the pilgrim’s journey, its concentric pathways and focused meditation/mediation stops bring the pray-er ever closer to God at the centre.
As twenty students waited for their turn to walk the Labyrinth, they explored painting as a form of prayer. I wondered who would sign up, expecting this activity to be a “girl thing” that would attract more students from grades three to five than from the middle school. But I was wrong on both counts.
Some interesting paintings developed. One painting by a 12 year old boy began with random strokes of orange and black that slowly transformed into an impressive image of a burning bush. Later during a de-briefing time, this boy freely shared how surprised he had been at what developed. He recognized his connection with Moses, who found himself amazed to be standing on holy ground.
Another piece grew more and more intense with too much paint in moody colours. I placed my hand on the shoulder of this painter and commented, “Sometimes, strong emotions can come out through this kind of prayer, can’t they?” He confirmed this with an intensely whispered, “Yeah!” Group leaders helped him clean up the dripping paint as inconspicuously as possible and tried to stay out of the way of his encounter with the Holy.
As the afternoon session began, I braced myself for an increasing level of energy among the group of 11-13 year olds – mostly boys. But the group settled into a quiet and reverent mood as they were introduced to these methods of creating space for encounters with the Holy. I encouraged them to bend down and pick up the olivewood carving of Jesus blessing the children, which awaited them at the centre of the Labyrinth.
As they reached this position, many of them knelt before, and often picked up the carving of Jesus. I was amazed to see two boys sitting together in the centre for several minutes, quietly holding this carving. I could tell they didn’t want to leave. When the opportunity arose to walk the Labyrinth a second time, they and three other boys returned. One, who had recently experienced a deep loss, was among them.
“We felt the Holy Spirit,” he said later of his time in the labyrinth.
The entire group of students remained subdued during the period of debriefing that followed the prayer walk.
Like the boy who had been surprised by the bush that had emerged from his painting in the morning session, I was surprised by the vibrant and energetic experience of Holy Ground that I had witnessed.
These particular boys are regularly exposed to worship music where they jump and shout, but they were more than ready to engage in contemplative activities. Did the more sedate activity of painting and walking provide enough action to channel their young male energy into conversing with Jesus? If so, it might provide the church with a valuable clue about young male ways of knowing and relating to God more intentionally.
Elsie Rempel is the Director of Christian Nurture for Mennonite Church Canada.