A version of this post was previously posted here.
While I was in my early 20s and discerning sisterhood, I felt insecure about my prayer life. I envied people who were able to wake up at the same time every day and pray in the same way. I had some silly impression that that’s what made a Christian a good Christian – whether they were able to sit still with God before they did anything else. As I grew to understand and accept myself more, I quickly realized that God didn’t really make me to be a consistent creature. Every day is different, and my relationship with God is very on-the-go.
In fact, when I shut up and paid attention to God in the people I knew, I started to notice how God was telling me that I was OK just as I was. One of my dear friends, who knows some things about God, kept saying “Julia, you pray with your feet.” I felt affirmed, yet still doubtful. Then I met a young monk from an Eastern religion who taught me that within humanity there are two different dispositions to enlightenment. Some people are enlightened through meditation and others are enlightened through service.
I’ve always been compelled to serve. Giving and caring for others is a blessing, just as it is a blessing to allow others to care for me. When I teach youth about service I remind them over and over that service is not about doing something. Service is not about entering someone’s world and getting busy. Service is about building relationships with people who are different than you and providing a loving presence, like Jesus did. It’s allowing them to change you as you learn about their lives and their world.
During my first summer of working with the Peacebuilders Initiative, I accompanied some teenagers to a shelter for women (and their children) who are in recovery on the South Side of Chicago. There we participated in the music class with an organization called Harmony, Hope, and Healing. Aware that the women had been formerly homeless made the experience even more awesome. Diverse strangers crammed into a living room, we all sang our hearts out. I heard million dollar voices sing hymns of praise. I realized, in tears, that this was what I had been hoping for every time I prayed “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
Later, we danced and prayed with musical instruments as we marched down the street to the park. Aware that it was a neighborhood of violence, I prayed with every step that the music we made blessed all of creation. The women told their stories and I told them how amazing they were and then we prayed, cried and hugged. It was one of the best prayer services I ever attended.