Saturday, November 26, 2016

Your Advent 24-7 Prayer Room

Rev. Jennie Edwards Bertrand describes an extremely simple prayer practice that she initiated in the campus ministry at Illinois State University:

In September 1999 in a village in southern England, Pete Greig and his college friends decided that if the Moravians could pull off a one-hundred-year prayer vigil, they could sustain three months of unbroken prayer. It seemed like a great way to induct the year 2000. What this group did not know was how news of their small prayer room would spread to college students and young adults all over the world by e-mail. Prayer rooms began to pop up all over the world, run mostly by young adults. [This movement is now known as 24-7 Prayer. It involves simply setting up a small room so that one person can be in prayer for one hour at a time; 24 hours per day. The campus ministry determined to hold their prayer room for one week. They had 30 active students in their first year.]
Jennie continues: While the phrase “I am not religious, I am spiritual” was quite popular as we were preparing for our first 24-7 prayer room, I don’t think many of the students were consciously concerned about their spiritual lives either. Looking back, I think the main reason that first group of thirty students was willing to try a prayer room was because it sounded crazy and undoable. They were competitive and wanted to be able to say, “We kept a human in that room for one hundred and sixty-eight hours. . . . Oh yeah, and they were praying.”
Richard Foster writes: “We all hunger for a prayer-filled life, for a richer, fuller practice of the presence of God.” The corrective I add to this is that a generation raised in a postmodern, post-Christian world doesn’t know it hungers for a prayer-filled life. One of my favorite characteristics of the 24/7 prayer movement is that the participants are not limited to those who would self-select to attend a prayer retreat, or join a prayer group.

A student leader and I collected paints and canvases, and covered the floor with cardboard and the walls with newsprint. We bought a CD player, some good meditative CDs, and a few worship CDs. We labeled the space outside the small converted office the Welcome Wall; plenty of coffee and water was provided. In the room, we labeled one wall a Wailing Wall; another wall the Worship Wall; and on a third wall we hung a map and named it the World Wall. We included a stack of Bibles, two journals, and hooks on the wall for hanging painted canvases. We went to the Catholic supply store, bought twelve seven-day candles, and ritually lit each one. For one week, hour-by-hour, students experienced the presence of God in the solitude of this room. One person would write a psalm on the Worship Wall, and others would follow suit. Names of loved ones in need of healing and R.I.P.s began to fill the Wailing Wall. Confessions and expressions of pain followed. Articulate and painfully honest conversations with God began to fill the pages of the journals. Beautiful artistic expressions of love, forgiveness, and healing covered the canvases. People highlighted countries on the map and asked for prayer, justice, and the end of poverty and war. By the end of the week, the floor and every wall was filled with an outpouring of deep cries from the soul. Right in the middle of day-to-day life, an entire (albeit small) ministry learned how to pray and experienced the power of God’s presence. (A Quiet Pentecost, pp. 71-73)

Now, ten years later, this practice continues at Illinois State University with an average of 130 students regularly in the ministry. I saw Jennie last spring and asked her about the 24-7 prayer ministry. She was so excited to share with me that now in addition to the campus ministry, she is involved in a new church start aimed toward millennials begun by former students whose spiritual life was awakening in the 24-7 prayer room.

The practice is simple. The impact is profound and very challenging. As we prepare for the feasts of Thanksgiving; and as we begin the patient waiting of Advent, I invite us to use this image of the 24-7 prayer room to refresh us to live toward the righteousness of God. In the 24-7 prayer room within your own heart: what will you name on your inner Wailing Wall? Remember how full the Psalms are of lament, of voicing our human hurts and longings? Our hearts ache for the Peace of Christ to pervade our families, our nation, and our world – we are asked by Jesus to be honest with naming our hurts, our griefs, our losses. But, we are invited to also love, praise, and sing. What will you name on your Worship Wall this week? What a wonderful season for us to give thanks, for the goodness we have each experienced in the past year, for hopes that we hold. Let us in joy, give thanks and praise to God as we gather around our family Thanksgiving and Advent meals. What will you place on your World Wall? What particular peoples and places within our nation and our world call to you for prayer and action? Where is Jesus asking you to give your special prayers, your donations, the work of your hands to live into that prayer we pray: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.