Sometimes we need to take a break from the books to see the sky and the little things in the grass at our feet.
I was excited to return to my campus after a semester in Spain, full of dreams for serving my campus and my fellowship. Even better was hearing from my friends that they were feeling the same way — and we all knew the place to start was with a great deal of prayer. We never expected the ways prayer would change everything.
When I was in Spain, I studied just down the street from the alma mater of Saint Josemaría Escriva who spoke these guiding words over seventy years ago: “First, prayer; then, atonement; in the third place, very much ‘in the third place,’ action.” I would find this powerful statement an important tool in directing our idealism.
Meeting up with my sisters in the fellowship who had attended the Urbana student missions convention, I discovered that they, too, were being guided spiritually in new directions. We were all filled with ideas for our small community of believers on campus: plans for reconciling, unifying, starting new programs, singing in Haitian Creole and worshiping in ways our souls could not yet imagine. The words of St. Josemaría EscrivÃ¡ became the unofficial motto of our chapter. Together we praised the Holy Spirit for the way he had synchronized our desires and planted in us the notion that we must first pray!
The growth of our fellowship started one evening over dinner just before the start of the spring semester. A small group of us dedicated ourselves to pray together every day during the week. We met in the evenings on weeknights from 9:30-10:30 p.m., devoting our time to those issues which seemed most pressing: one night for Baltimore and our school there, one night for our families, one night for open prayer and two nights for the world. We prayed for poverty, various countries we had visited, the global church, news articles and elections. We quickly grew to a dozen or more on any given night, which is a grand sum considering the size of our fellowship: a chapter of 30 on a campus of around 1300 undergrads.
For many of us, this was the first authentic and worshipful prayer we had experienced together. God was teaching us what it meant for us, as humans, to pray to him. I cannot say whether or not our prayers ended wars and swung votes, but through prayer God began to change us. From blog posts, online videos and books — anywhere and everywhere — God taught us about prayer.
One such resource was C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, wherein he posits that as physical creatures, our prayer is affected by our bodies. We wanted our prayer times to reflect our relationship with the one to whom we prayed, so we used a variety of optional prayerful “postures” — kneeling, lying face down, bowing, sitting or standing. Kneeling might signify we prayed to our King, lying might mean we were before the God of the Universe. Occasionally we practiced conversational prayer where several people would pray for a subject. This relieved the pressure on one person to cover its entire scope, and allowed more of us to express our concerns.
And as our knees bent and our voices rose to God, we were given an even larger picture of his expectations for us, and we moved into the next phase, which St. EscrivÃ¡ described as atonement. We understood this as a time to seek holiness and repentance. It meant confronting our personal failure to follow God’s commands, such as loving Him, being one in spirit with other believers, charity for our neighbor. Atoning meant acknowledging the damage we had caused — some of which, like racism and homophobia, had gone unnoticed and unchecked our entire lives. In my case, atonement included coming to love believers I never thought I could care for.
As a whole, the Lord changed our hearts and minds in ways that promoted the prayer of Jesus: “your will be done.” Those who did not know about God’s passion for justice began to hunger and thirst for it. Freshmen began to dream big and took swift action to feed the homeless in our neighborhood. Our Sunday morning church carpool found itself taking a new route deeper into Baltimore’s inner city to churches dedicated to bridging cultural, ethnic and class divides in a predominantly African-American neighborhood.
These new pursuits testified that the Holy Spirit had taken control of our faith to reconcile us to him and to each other as Christians — but that wasn’t all he wanted. Ultimately, we needed to take steps of action outside of the Body of Christ, ministering to the spiritual needs of our campus. Now was the time for action, as Escriva wrote. This seemed to come late to many of us who had been at Goucher for three or four years, but God was moving in the picture in a way that frightened many of us.
The Lord got our attention one warm afternoon towards the end of our semester of ongoing prayer. My friend and I were watching a video in which a speaker recounted the evangelistic course the Christian group at his university had taken. They seemed to be filled with love for God, filled with the Holy Spirit, praying, and going out in pairs to non-believing groups. Soon the spiritually curious were coming out of the woodwork. Members of the group were leading Bible studies and preaching in the quad to reach these interested students.
It was intimidating to picture ourselves preaching on the quad just outside our window, like this group had done on their campus. Evangelism was an old sore spot for many of us, but we let the idea take root. This summer we formally committed ourselves to planning the first evangelistic event at Goucher College in ten years! Already the Good News is beginning to seep out of us to the loved ones in our lives. We are becoming unashamed of the gospel, daring to take action despite our sense of trepidation.
I have no doubt that we will be praying through these fears this semester. We hope that we will bring the Kingdom of God to our school, planting it firmly in the everyday lives of Goucher’s students. Above all, we give thanks for God’s incredible goodness and faithfulness to us as we continue to pray, embrace God’s atonement, and move toward action.
— by Candice Carr