connective spirituality in youth ministry
And God said, “Attention, please! May I have your attention?”1 God, in Martha Whitmore Hickman’s And God Created Squash: How the World Began, having created the most ambitious part of creation (that would be us) now asks a simple thing: “Attention, please! May I have your attention?” Why? Well, to point out a few things and to see if we have any questions. God particularly wants us to know this: “Remember I made you for company, for me and for each other. So we could love each other.” And that is the essence of a Connective Spirituality, we are made for company, for God and for each other. So we can love each other.
I spent much of last summer filling in for one of our Disciples of Christ regional staff while she was on sabbatical. Each week I drove a couple of hours north of Indianapolis one day and south another day to visit two church camps. I would check in with the directors for the week, with facilities staff, troubleshoot whatever might have come up since my last visit, and, of course, have lunch with the campers and staff in attendance.
After lunch I would be introduced and say a few words – thanks to the staff who gave their time, for the churches who provided this opportunity, and so on. I always finished with three questions for the kids: What has been the good stuff so far this week? (Usual answers: swimming, friends, food, small groups, FOB – flat-on-bunk time or rest time, staying up late.) What has been not-so-good? (Food, weather, bugs, FOB time.)
And then the interesting part, what I really wanted to know: When this week did you get a glimpse of God? I heard good stuff, invariably accompanied by contented smiles: friends, vespers, campfire, small groups, worship, an early morning rainbow, deer in the meadow. Though predictable, paying attention to those glimpses of God is much the point of the outdoor ministries experience. But I was surprised how many times, all summer long, I heard kids say: “I saw God in the storm.” Whenever in each week there had been a storm (and there were a couple of real bangers this summer), someone found that to be a significant God-moment, a time when a glimpse, an awareness, a clear connecting with God happened. Right in the midst of the storm. Even there, connecting with God.
Corinne Ware, Assistant Professor of Ascetical Theology at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX, says that is, in fact, what spirituality is: connecting with God. “That may seem too simple,” she says, “but give it a chance; let it sink in.”2 Spirituality is about such moments as those God-glimpses at camp, moments when we felt connected to something larger than ourselves. From the dramatic, bang-clang-scary moments of the storm to the quiet of a rainbow, the intimate care of friends to the silliness of campfire skits – all may be spiritual moments if connecting with God happens. Those are what I am calling a Connective Spirituality.
Cool, so how do we work a Connective Spirituality?
“An important thing to remember is that our own efforts do not produce the God connection. We do not bring God to us by means of something we achieve, as un-American as that sounds. We can only experience the God who is already here. Our efforts, then, are to enhance openness and availability. Spirituality is deepened by access. It is not God who is unavailable. It is you and I. . . . In learning how to be ‘spiritual,’ our task is to position ourselves so that we can hear the voice that always speaks, feel the nearness of the always present Presence, and speak to One who continually hears.” 3
Walter Brueggeman, not often thought of as a youth ministry resource, has been one of mine since reading him in my seminary days. In Living Toward A Vision he wrote: “If you ask almost any adult the impact of church school on his or her growth, he or she will not tell you about books or curriculum or Bible stories or anything like that. The central memory is of the teacher.” 4
I don’t need to pause a moment to find my teacher memory. For me it is all about Jean. Jean Goforth was my high school Sunday School teacher at Frayser Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee. She was also one of my summer camp counselors. Gathering us around a table in the small classroom with her in the mid to late 60’s – sometimes with donuts – Jean encouraged open discussions of every matter under the sun and then some. Any topic seemed fair play so long as we respected each other and came back around (long before the bumper sticker) to ask “what would Jesus do?” In the midst of Vietnam, Civil Rights and Martin Luther King, Jr., mid-60’s Memphis was not a quiet place, nor was our Sunday School. Jean made sure we listened to each other. She shared her own thoughts, too. And helped us connect. With each other. With God. In the midst of my teen years, Jean Goforth was critical to connecting me with God.
It is the relationship that makes the critical difference. Youth ministry is relational ministry. And relationship is the connection through which youth most often connect with God. While they may come to appreciate and connect with God through other forms – Bible study, the natural world, worship settings, and so on – relationship is their natural form of connective spirituality. It may be one to one, in small groups, in mission or leadership with others, but it is most often the relationship connection that becomes the youth vehicle for the God connection.
Connective Spirituality is about practicing and experiencing and paying attention until, as Rabbi Lawrence Kushner says, “finally we become aware that everything is connected to everything else through invisible lines of connection.” 5 Quiet or loud? Active or reflective? Prayer or social justice? Simple, repetitive and soft Taize singing or praise/rock/jazz/soul/gospel/hip-hop/ fill-in-your-own music. Contemplative prayer service or hands-on work trip. An amazing sunset or a shattering storm. Sitting alone in the quiet, a meal with friends, or dancing madly with a thousand others at a concert. Wherever and however a genuine connecting to God and each other happens, that is a spiritual experience, a Connective Spirituality.
God’s desire is for our spiritual life to connect us to each other as well as to God, that we be company for each other and for God. Micah 6:8 frames it clearly. “. . . and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Do justice – a spiritual life that connects to the needs of all people for dignity and fairness and the basics of life. Love kindness – a spiritual life that connects us to be company for those near at hand, family and friends and daily encounters at school and work and on the streets, who need care and an ear, need lifting up and healing. Walk humbly with your God – a spiritual life that connects with God and pays attention to the God Presence in all those other connections.
“Attention, please! May I have your attention?” That’s what God asks of us. Years ago now I lay in bed with my son, Blaine after reading a story, This four-year-old, pondering his day at preschool, rolled over toward me and said, “You know, Dad, when you first know someone your heart is like this.” He showed me his little hand in a tight fist. “But the more you get to know them, it starts to do this.” His hand began to open. “And finally it’s like this.” And he flourished his hand wide open. And rolled back over and went to sleep. Our preschooler paid attention and though he did not name the God part, he got the connection.
Spirituality – Contemplative, Non-Contemplative, Connective or whatever other language we put to it – is ever and always about paying attention, noticing the connections and remembering we are made for company – for God and for each other – so we can love each other. And if we help our youth pay attention, to see the connections, to be company for each other and for God so they can love each other and love God in the quiet and in the storm, then we will have done well for them on their Spiritual Journey.
1. And God Created Squash: How the World Began, Martha Whitmore Hickman.
Albert Whitman & Company, 1993.
2. Connecting to God: Nurturing Spirituality through Small Groups, Corinne Ware.
Alban Institute, 1997, pp. 2.
3. Connecting to God: Nurturing Spirituality through Small Groups, Corinne Ware.
Alban Institute, 1997, pp. 3.
4. Brueggeman, Walter, Living Toward A Vision, United Church Press, 1976,
5. Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary, Lawrence
Kushner. Jewish Lights Publishing,1996, p. 16.
© Randy Kuss; 2007. Provided with Permission. God at Center project.