Creating a Prayer Environment for any Age Group
by Jamin Herold
"In addition to their participation in communal prayer, Christ's followers deepen their
relationship with God through private prayer, which flows from the liturgy." (Built of Living Stones [BLS], 43) One of the greatest responsibilities catechists might have is creating an environment of prayer externally and internally for their students. For "when catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the assimilation of the entire Christian life reaches its summit." (General Directory of Catechesis [GDC], 85). This can start with a creation of a space of prayer within the classroom.
Creating a prayer space for your students is an opportunity to bring the true, the beautiful, and the good to their lives. When we do this, we are bringing the very life of God into their lives. For centuries, the art and space of our parishes have been the means through which the knowledge, the truth, and the very life of God were transmitted to the faithful. As the faithful gathered together for opportunities of prayer and worship, they would be enveloped with beautiful artwork depicting the truths of the Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and the grace of God being transmitted to humanity. "Authentic art is integral to the Church at prayer because these objects and actions are 'signs and symbols of the supernatural world' and expressions of the divine presence" (BLS 146). Almost through osmosis, the wisdom of God was engrained within the very minds and lives of the faithful. Even today, when my own family enters some of the majestic and beautiful churches, my children will sit in awe, as if taken to another location, to the very height of heaven, engrossed with the knowledge of God they see. As we sit in the pews awaiting the beginning of the heavenly Liturgy, they will turn to me and point out the knowledge they are gaining, talking about the saints, the life of Christ, or the Scripture stories they see depicted. The space itself has become a means not only of catechesis, but also an entrance into another space and time of worship. The sacred spaces we create in our classrooms can truly be an opportunity to elicit the same reactions within our students.
- The Cross must be central to any space of worship (BLS 144).
- Utilize beautiful works of art, either in pictures or prayer cards.
- All items used within a prayer space should be of genuine, beautiful materials.
- The layout of the prayer space should draw the attention of the students toward elements of prayer. Their eyes should be naturally drawn to the Cross, an image, the name of Jesus, or something sacred.
- Images, cloths, colors, etc. should be traded out as necessary to reflect the seasons of worship in the Church.
In order for our students to be able to enter another space and time, to enter into a life of prayer and worship, prayer spaces cannot be reduced to placeholders. If we become content to establish a corner table in our rooms with a colored tablecloth, a candle, and a simple picture of Jesus, we may be selling our students short. This does not mean that huge amounts of money must be invested into the space, but we do need to take this space just as seriously as the books we choose, the lesson plans we create, the crafts we partake in, or any other important aspect of our classrooms. The space must be usable by the students, both communally and individually; it must be substantial to the space they are studying in, yet set apart; and it must become a place of peace and a time of communion with God and the saints.
- Prayer spaces need to be set aside and should consist of more than just a piece of furniture. Consider setting aside an entire corner of a room.
- Prayer spaces need to be a focus during communal times of prayer. Students may all face the area and concentrate on a piece of art, or might even gather around the space. Consider doing actions like taking off your shoes as you approach the space, to signify the area as different.
- Prayer spaces need to be able to be utilized individually as necessary. Students ought to have an opportunity to pray quietly in or near the area before, after, or even at times during the class.
The prayer space must contain truth, it must be beautiful, and it must elicit the good of the students. As part of the space, we must also look toward the very prayer we utilize in the space. Part of the environment of prayer is the very prayer itself. If we rush through a prayer, if we say it in a meaningless fashion, or if we place it as a distraction to the rest of what we do, we do not set forth an environment conducive to prayer. The prayer we choose for our classrooms needs to elicit an age-appropriate response to God's love. Simple, memorized prayers work for communal recitation; yet, our prayer time with the students ought to utilize those memorized prayers as a springboard into a deeper and more relational experience of prayer. "Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2565). Utilizing the depth of prayer found in liturgy, in Lectio Divina, in contemplating the face of Jesus, or in meditative prayers such as the Rosary or chaplets, will strengthen the depth of the prayer life of each of our students, enabling them to know God in a relational way that will make all of our teaching more fruitful.
- As much time should be spent preparing a meaningful prayer space as lesson planning.
- Lectio Divina is a good way to pray with the Scriptures; it can be adapted for any age such as adjusting the length of the readings, the length of time in each section of Lectio, or even the use of guided meditation.
- Silence is a necessary aspect of prayer at all ages, allowing God to speak to each student. Make sure to keep the length of the time of silence appropriate to the age of the students praying.
The whole environment of prayer (the space, the internal reflection of the student, and the prayer itself) should be replicable. Students need to be able to take the ideas, the images, and the space to their own homes. They ought to feel encouraged to introduce this space to their parents, and be able to find a location within their own homes to utilize as a prayer space. These spaces will enable the continuation of the life of prayer beyond the walls of our classrooms and the confines of the Church. Parents, too, will be encouraged through these spaces to strengthen their own prayer lives, to pray with their children, and to grow in union with God as a family. Often, we find families who experience "alienation from the Church, or at least diffidence in her regard. . . . Often this reflects lack of spiritual and moral support in the family and weaknesses in the catechesis which they have received. On the other hand, many of them are driven by a strong impetus to find meaning, solidarity, social commitment and even religious experience" (GDC 182). The replicability of the environment of prayer established in our classrooms can bring many to the religious experiences they are seeking.
- Coloring sheets of the artwork utilized within the prayer space can be used during class, or sent home to use in a replicable space at home.
- If an image of a saint is utilized in the prayer space, prayer cards may be sent home.
- Copies of the prayers used in class can be given to the parents to continue with at home.
- Parents should be taught how to pray Lectio Divina and other meditative prayers at home.
- Do not give too much all at once to the parents. Building the life of prayer within the children and the family in bite-sized chunks will aid in the development of a life of prayer.
- Parents can be invited to witness the prayer life of the class.
The underlying theme of the entire idea of creating a prayer environment is to truly create a space of prayer within the lives of the students. An inner change takes place through the external space that has been created within our rooms. The hearts of the students, and hopefully those of their families, will grow in union with the very heart of Jesus. To view prayer as a serious component in the life of catechesis is to take seriously the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations. By establishing an environment that is true, good, and beautiful, we can hope to establish both an internal and external openness to the very life of God within our classrooms, our students, and their families.
2016, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights
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Excerpts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, copyright © 2000, Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture excerpts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, rev. ed.© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.