So, after we spent some time in discussion and praying for their classmate Joe who had died suddenly last Friday (as I described yesterday), I transitioned the young people into a guided reflection. I had planned on doing the guided reflection first this week as opposed to saving it to the end of class. It turns out that this was probably a good thing since they were already in a prayerful state of mind. Thank you, Holy Spirit!
I reminded them that 2 weeks ago, when I was absent, I included a guided reflection (a recorded reflection on CD) in the sub’s plans. I told them that a catechist normally would not ask a sub to lead a guided reflection but I said that I told the DRE and the sub that “my class knew how to handle it.” As it turns out, I was informed that there was a good deal of giggling during that guided reflection (the sub hadn’t said anything to me however one of the girls in my class is the daughter of a fellow catechist and she lamented to her mom that the reflection was spoiled by immature behavior…and word got back to me!). I told them that this was disappointing. I reminded them that what I am trying to do in these meditations is to help them get in touch with God within themselves. I said that we often go through life looking for God when all along we can find him within ourselves.
With those words of encouragement, I sent them off to their “sacred space” – their little nooks and crannies in the classroom. I dimmed the lights, allowed them a little time to get comfortable and then began playing the guided reflection. Wouldn’t you know it, within a few seconds, there was chatting and giggling. I wandered about throughout the room, putting out the little “brushfires” of misbehavior. I was “this close” to turning off the CD player and putting the lights back on when things began to calm down. For the rest of the reflection (it was a 10-minute piece), things went pretty well.
Now, the good part.
When the recorded reflection ended, I turned off the CD player and continued leading a reflection on my own, inviting them to spend some time talking to God: thanking him for this time together, telling God what they are happy about, sad about, worried about and so on. I built in lots of pauses. I invited them to tell God how they need his help in the days to come and to listen to what God may be saying to them. I allowed a long pause. There was complete silence (there was no instrumental music playing in the background at this point). I allowed the silence to go on for several minutes. All we heard were the distant sounds of an occasional car engine, a police siren, a dog barking, or a door slamming down the hallway. There was perfect stillness. We enjoyed this for about 3 or 4 minutes (an eternity with 8th graders!) before I slowly called them back to their places.
They came back slowly, quietly, and calmly. I told them that I was proud of them and that those last 5 minutes or so when there was such stillness was precisely what I had in mind for them. I joked that it took about 7 weeks to finally achieve it but that it was worth it. I explained that this is something that they can do on their own and that I often engage in such prayer while commuting on the train each day. They seemed intrigued by that. I reminded them that all they have to do is imagine that Jesus is sitting next them and to talk to him “as one friend talking to another” (St. Ignatius’ advice).
What struck me from this experience is how close I came to pulling the plug on it because of immature behavior. I thank God that he provided me with just another few ounces of patience to allow the Spirit to get through to these kids and to enable such a prayerful moment. I sure as heck wanted to “pull up the weeds” but the Lord reminded me that it was better to allow the weeds and wheat to grow together for the time being, lest I pull up the wheat as well. That’s why God is the harvest Master, not me!
I also think that I’m going to design more of my own guided reflections instead of the recorded ones…although the CDs are very good, I think the kids are responding better to a live voice. I have no doubt that I will continue to need to stamp out little brushfires during future guided reflections, but this moment was very real and I can remind them of that and call them back to it.