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