Serving at the youth altar

 

 I am on a retreat for those about to be confirmed in The Christian Community, with 19 fourteen year olds from congregations in the eastern United States.  It is always so moving to me to be with these youngsters, full of life and expectation about all that is to come. What grace allows these kids of today to still be open to our adult guidance, to our serious and challenging questions? I have learned a few things over the years of working with the young, and with other colleagues. Our shared general approach as Christian Community priests is to view the confirmands as people on the threshold between childhood and youth, beginning a new life and starting to become themselves for the first time in their lives, independent and scared and full of joy at the possibilities. We work out of a reverence for the evolving free, spiritual human being who already appears in such sincerity even at this age. They are pilgrims on a pressing journey to find the divine at work in the world.

What strikes me every time I enter such a happening (an extended trip such as this for example) is to notice just how serious they are in their approach to life–mixed in with the usual teenager energy and general discomfort that all us human beings seem to have to go through at this age–they are desperately hungry for the truth, to learn what is essential to make it in this life, how to make meaning out of struggle, how to find joy and satisfaction in their engagement and relationships, and whether or not the spiritual world is real, as real as what happens here on earth. They are worried about high school, what people think of them, whether or not there is a place for them in this complicated world. 

They look to us in sincere longing to know that we grownups stand for what we speak of, that we are authentic in our own striving, that we love the earth and other people and life itself and also have some kind of real relationship to God and spirit.  

They are as serious as monks, though you wouldn’t know it during dinner, when the din of their ebullience in the room is deafening! But the moment we give them the task of drawing a Celtic sun cross in their books or the exercise to pray for five straight minutes and then write about their experience, they take it on with a reverence and quietude of soul which challenges many an adult to find.  I am in awe of them. I feel a deep gratitude to be allowed to try to serve their becoming, and a desire to become so much more than I already am to be worthy of this task. 

  

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