Youth Devotional

At 8pm every Friday night in Minneapolis, about twenty youth ages fifteen to thirty begin to trickle into a living room of a modest home in the Central neighborhood. People catch up, ask about the week, tell jokes. Some people ask about regulars: Is Gretchen coming? Does Blair need a ride? Sometimes people enter with banana bread or fruit to share for after prayers. Sometimes somebody shares a new song before the devotional starts. When there is a crowd and somebody enters, everyone applauds. When somebody enters that nobody knows, someone will greet them and lead them to a seat. People are on couches, sitting in chairs, and on the floor around the circle. As new people come in, and as new conversations get going, people move around. There are high school students, college students, young parents, people with full time jobs, people unemployed, people who deicate lots of time to community activites, neighbors who just dropped by, and friends of regulars.

Before the devotional officially starts, there is often an ice breaker. One week, the question was, “If your life could be a movie, what genre would it be?” The best answer? “Sassy sci-fi satire.” After this opening activity, somebody begins passing around holy writings--Bahá'í prayer books, quotations on paper, the Qur’an, an Indian spirituality book--explaining that the devotional is about to get started and anyone is welcome to share any prayer or song that they would like. There is no leader; different people select themselves to introduce the devotional, begin the ice breaker, bring food, start songs, read prayers. Everyone wants everyone else to feel comfortable participating.

Creating an atmosphere of reverence and peace, the guitar gently brings the group into song. Everyone sits in comfortable silence, meditating in their own way until somebody reads a prayer, begins a new song, or asks, “Can we do this song?” Sometimes the songs are sung quietly by one person; sometimes everyone joins in and tries to harmonize; sometimes a drum beat is added and people raise their voices to match the energy. It is often unclear when a song stops, which can cause awkward straggling voices and brief laughter before coming back to the silence, waiting for another prayer or song. There are no rules; every devotional depends on the people that come and what they bring.

After the devotional, people gather in the room next door and continue catching up and discussing the community. One week, a few youth shared their excitement when they went to a middle school after school fair and saw lots of junior youth in the program and their families. One person responded jokingly, “Mwuahaha, we are infiltrating.” Another week, a young parent visited her daughter’s new elementary school, and told us all, “You would really like the school--it’s so diverse.” Unity in diversity is a concept you often hear in the Bahá'í community. People leave at different times when they feel it’s time; sometimes a dance party erupts with the few left, and other times intense conversation about the middle school age keeps people there well into the night. Eventually, the weekly Youth Devotional comes to a close, ending with lots of hugs before the final few return to their homes.