In first-person: Craig Mast
Craig Mast and his wife, Krista
2008 Radical Journey participants
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
When Jesus spoke these words from Luke 18:16-17, was he talking at all about spiritual disciplines? Now, it would be great if Play-Doh and finger paint would comprise a spiritual discipline, and since I just thought of that, maybe I'll take it up and see what comes of it. But the real reason that my reflections on spiritual discipline return to this verse has more to do with my recent journey with prayer than with crayons.
Prayer is the spiritual discipline that allows us to express our thoughts to the divine, and is something that I'm sure every Christian has worked on in some capacity or another. Trying to be more devoted to a daily time of prayer, or seeking other modes to listen and speak to God, really sums up what a discipline is all about.
In my context, I've been trying to work on my communication with God while teaching English in Paraguay this year. Part of my position also entails learning to communicate in Spanish with the people around me. As any linguist will tell you, being able to fluently and efficiently form thoughts and speak them to others is the most difficult part and often the last stage in second language acquisition.
This has led to some interesting interactions in the street, but also to many a humbling experience at the dinner table. You see, our host mother, Berta, often calls on my wife, Krista, or me at random to give the blessing for the meal. Suddenly, without warning, I am expected o communicate with our God in a tongue that is not my own, and it often leads to very basic sentences thanking God for the food, for my family, and for friends. I can't remember how to call Jesus the "Prince of Peace," but I can say, "Jesus, you are good," and end my attempt there.
So how does this connect to Play-Doh? These opportunities tend to make me wonder how often in the past my prayers (in English, my first language) tried to approach God with the vocabulary of a philosopher, and considered "improvement" in my prayer to be synonymous with how much word-smithing I could do to get a deep point across to our Diety.
I have started to realize that my opportunities to pray in basic sentences are chances to pray at the level of a child. As one who will receive the kingdom of God. And, you know what? Through my time of struggling to pray the most basic of sentences, I have found deep and meaningful thoughts intertwined in the simple words that do find their way out. I think God wants to know that we liked the sunset, that we are truly thankful for the bread in front of us, and that we like our family.
Suddenly, being disciplined in prayer doesn't seem so daunting. It is conversation with a childhood friend. It is not a struggle to avoid using the same words I did this morning, or even to avoid using words that aren't words. It is an invitation to use what sounds are on my heart and in my head. So I invite you to thank God for that tree outside of your window just because it is pretty. Don't bother thinking of another adjective. Or at lunch today, pray the song that I've been taught by heart here in Paraguay:
Gracias, Señor, por este pan
y por el amigo que a mi lado está.
Thank you, Lord, for this bread
and for the friend by my side.
I hope you meet Jesus in that simplicity today.
Craig Mast and his wife, Krista, are participants in the Radical Journey program. They are serving in Paraguay helping to teach English to individuals who volunteer at Mennonite World Conference in summer 2009. They attend East Goshen Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., and are 2006 graduates of Goshen (Ind.) College.