devozine

For Youth Workers Post

UNEXPECTED SAINTS

Lanecia A. Rouse

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for October 6–12, 2014.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

“Ms. C started living on the streets of Houston more than twelve years ago. I met her in 2011, my first week at the Bread of Life. As she walked along Gray Street from one building to another, she stopped beside one of the buildings on our church campus with her home bundled up in bags and her morning cup of coffee, which she got from the church. The new kid on the block, I raised my morning cup of freshly brewed coffee from a local coffee shop and introduced myself. Ms. C was gracious and did not say more than, “OK, OK,” with a little giggle and a smile that articulated surprise at my audacity.

“A light in her leaked through the layers of heaviness and depression in her life. I do not remember much from that day or from the first week with The Art Project, Houston; but since then Ms. C has been a constant in my life and work. Over three and a half years, I have gotten to know Ms. C, and we have become friends. We have told each other some of our stories, and she has given me permission to share hers.

“Since our first encounter, I have been privileged to see the transformation in her life as she has had opportunities to tap into her creative spirit and participate in life-giving activities in the midst of a life that is draining and hard. She has watched the same happen in my life. She has been an everyday saint in my life, whose love is expressed in wise words, light, art, and love. She has made me a more loving person.

“Countless numbers of people pass by Ms. C every day, not knowing that she is a saint. She prays daily; ponders God’s love, expressed in John 3:16, her favorite verse, held in her heart pretty much all day; and ushers love into this world through her words, her art, and her smile.

“She shines and has helped me to shine as we have done the hard, life-giving work of loving each other well. In our ordinary living and being with each other, I experience the extraordinary presence of God at the most unexpected times and in the most mundane spaces. My relationship with Ms. C daily reminds me to keep my eyes open for God. God is everywhere and delights in surprising us with love and grace through others. God is always with us, but has a history of showing up in the most unexpected ways.” —Lanecia

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”
                                   —Roald Dahl

MEET THE WRITER

Lanecia-Feature-SQLanecia A. Rouse is my name. I am beloved, and I receive most of my days trying to discover the implications of this reality as I live in the tension of “the already but not yet” with people living on and off the downtown streets of Houston, Texas on the campus of St. John’s Downtown. I am a photographer, painter, musician, writer, mother, friend, and lover of life who is daily learning how to play and to live in freedom. Currently, I am serving as the project manager of The Art Project, Houston, a therapeutic art and self-empowerment project of the Bread of Life, Inc. Prior to the move to Houston in March 2011, I served in youth ministry for thirteen years, most of which I received with the brilliant, bursting, beautiful youth of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • a Bible
  • 11×14” white copy paper
  • colored pencils and markers
  • pens
  • envelopes
  • (optional) a copy of the group closing prayer in “Sharing In Prayer”
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

Below are some resources that you may find helpful as you shape and guide conversations about unexpected saints.

CHECKING IN

Before diving into this session, receive time to meet with volunteers and/or youth workers and to discuss these questions:
       What does “unexpected saint” mean to you?
       Who have been the unexpected saints in your life?
       How has their presence made you grow in your love of God, neighbor, and self?
       What faith practices help you encounter God in unexpected people and places?
Conclude the time with prayer for one another and the program.

A great daily practice is to receive time in prayer for those you are called to lead and the ministry in which you share. Receive time before people arrive to pray for the time, for those who will participate, for those who will not be present, and for the life of your church community.

When the youth arrive, welcome everyone, extending a special welcome to those joining you for the first time.

Read aloud this quotation by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn (see “Challenging People” on dotMagis):
       Since I work at a parish, you would think that I trip over God in so many places that I would never be shocked. However, be assured—the sneak-up-on-me God surprises me daily.
       God regularly shows up in the form of challenging people. Sometimes I see God in a cranky co-worker or in a perturbed parishioner. God always arrives in the needy poor, at times belligerent in their persistence and perhaps mentally ill or simply exhausted from difficult living.
       It is easy to see God in the hushed and majestic sanctuary, when I am kneeling and praying alone. God is indeed there—God is everywhere! However, I continue to be startled by God revealed in people that irk me. God astonishingly shows up in everyone, challenging my not-so-merciful heart to soften and open—just like God’s does for us every day.

Then ask group members to respond to the quotation:
       What do you think?
       What about her ideas resonated with you?
       What questions do they raise for you?
       What do you think about encountering God in everyday people, including those who challenge you, make you uncomfortable, or upset you?

Say: “Our study today is about unexpected saints and about being open to God in the people we meet each day.”

Invite the group to discuss these questions:
       What is a saint? (for the purpose of this study, a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous)
       When does the term “unexpected saint” mean to you?
       Who have been the unexpected saints in your life?
       How has their presence made you grow in love for God, neighbors, and yourself? Encourage group members to tell stories about the impact unexpected saints have had on their lives.

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: Galatians 5:22–23

God chooses to be revealed in many different ways. Often when we think of the saints, we think of people who lived holy lives and are now dead. We also think of people who are living for Christ today. Their light is bright, and their lives are extraordinary.

When we look at Scripture, however, we see that God uses ordinary people in the everyday moments of life to show us a glimpse of extraordinary love, faith, and goodness. Rahab, Mary, the disciples, David, Paul—through their lives, we see that encountering the living God may happen anytime and anywhere. The scripture invites us to remain open to seeing and receiving God’s presence by any means God chooses to be revealed.

How do we know when we encounter God? One way is by the fruit a person bears. Just as we know a tree is an apple or orange tree by the fruit it bears, we know that God is revealed in a person by the fruit he or she bears. Galatians 5:22–23a says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Invite discussion:
       When have you encountered the fruit of the Spirit in a person in whom you did not expect to find it?
       What did your experience teach you about who God is and how God works?
       What did it teach you about yourself? other people?

Often our preconceived notions keep us from encountering the everyday blessings God offers. Some may think the unexpected saints in our midst are only those who are living in poverty or on the margins of society. Others may think that unexpected saints are only those who are in the church or serving as missionaries. The witness of scripture, tradition, and experience is that God knows no boundaries and goes to great lengths to be love for all of us.

We often do not thank each other for the love and goodness we bring to one another’s lives. The scriptures encourage gratitude.

Invite each member of the group to think of one person who has demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit and has helped him or her to grow in the love of God and neighbor. Then ask group members to write letters of thanksgiving to people who have shown them the love of God. Provide art supplies and suggest that people decorate their letters and envelopes. You may choose to mail the letters or encourage group members to deliver their letter themselves.

SHARING IN PRAYER

Light a candle to symbolize the presence of Christ. Ask group members to sit in a circle around the candle.

Distribute paper and pens. Invite everyone to reflect silently on the following questions:
       When did I experience God in the session?
       What gave me life? joy?

When everyone has finished, invite volunteers to talk about their responses.

Then offer the prayer in italics below, OR invite group members to pray with you the second prayer below (in bold type):

       “Thank you, God, for love that refuses to let us go.
       Thank you for going to great lengths to make yourself known to us.
       Thank you for the unexpected saints you bring into our lives that we mention now.
              (Pause and allow people to speak the names of unexpected saints in their lives.)
       Give us eyes to see you in the most unlikely places
       and ears to hear your unexpected words
       In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.”

                    * * * * * * *

       “Under a leaf, in a snowflake
       In a blade of grass, in a raindrop
       All parts of nature

       In your parents’ loving embrace
       In the phone call from your grandparents
       All family relationships 

       In working and sharing with others
       In helping the unfortunate
       All volunteering jobs 

       Where are you able to find God?

       Lord, help me to find you in all ways and walks of life. Amen.”

         by Jared Kiley, St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati, Ohio. Excerpt from In All Things: Everyday Prayers of Jesuit High School Students, edited by Michael J. Daley and Lee P. Yeazell

TAKING IT FURTHER

Consider collaborating with a local non-profit agency (a shelter for the homeless, an afterschool program, a nursing home, a refugee ministry) that will create opportunities for group members to nurture ongoing relationships with the people it serves. Ask group members to make a commitment to build these relationships monthly for a year. Create opportunities for your group to tell about their experience and to name how God is at work through them and their new friends. You may discern creative ways for your group to collect and share their stories with other people. Find ways for them to be ambassadors of the living God, who uses ordinary people to increase God’s extraordinary love in the world.

—from devozine In the Habit (September/October 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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