EUU Youth Religious Education
At each retreat, the RE Committee facilitates a lively, interesting, and informative program for children from 4-18 years of age. In between retreats, fellowship RE coordinators independently design and adapt curricula and activities based on upcoming retreat themes and/or topics of local interest.
Previously, retreat RE themes were designated by a rotating selection of the following broad topics: UUism, Christian Heritage, Nature-based Spirituality, and World Religions. Recent developments are moving the RE curriculum toward more extratheological themes, rather than selections of single world religions or elements of historical heritage per retreat. Themes such as social action, artistic expression, celebratory ceremonies, views of the afterlife, the roles of deities, and music are a few examples. This format provides sufficient room to incorporate analysis of numerous religions through a common lens, encourages participation in discussions with reflections of previous experiences with "real world" themes, and leads to more direct application of the lessons' content to personal spiritual growth and understanding.
Spring 2013 Theme: Social Justice
Fall 2013 Theme: Prayer and Meditation
Deep Thoughts: Next retreat's topics are prayer and meditation
This autumn, we dive into our second installment of the EUU RE's new topical format, in which real-life experiences and engaging discussions connect spiritual themes and practices with modern issues and lifestyles. Taking a cue from nearly every major religion, we will be exploring the substantial use, benefits, and traditions of prayer and meditation.
"Prayer changes people, and people change the world. So let us pray," Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube of San Diego's First UU Church used to say before leading the congregation in reverent thought. Most people may already be familiar with both prayer and meditation, but the varieties that exist around the world are truly endless and often surprising. Structured meditation is as old as Hinduism, recorded several thousands of years ago, and as new as five minutes ago, as therapists and spiritual leaders continue to develop new age "awareness training" exercises.
Prayer, too, is so intertwined with religion that its history spans from Ancient Roman and Greek Paganism to modern day Islam, Bahá'í, Judaism, and all denominations of Christianity. Secular and humanist groups, as well, generally incorporate some form of meditation or prayer into their routines, whether communal or in private. As UUism is theologically inclusive, we may adopt many definitions and manifestations of prayer. Some UUs feel most comfortable with traditional recitations before going to sleep while others may include experiences such as observing a beautiful rainbow or working at a homeless shelter as their form of connecting with the sacred.
The reasons for prayer are as varied as the practices, but most can be described as a means of connection, spiritually, communally, and personally. One may believe to be communicating directly with a spiritual entity or deity, confirming loyal membership in a community, or finding inner peace among the noise and busyness (and possibly uncomfortable or scary situations) of everyday life. Each form is broadly used, and there are four basic types of prayer: praise (gratitude), confession ("I'm sorry"), petition (a wish), and intercession (loving wishes on behalf of others). Though we have such thoughts throughout the day (thankful for your dad's delicious breakfast, regretful for not doing your homework well, anticipating a good grade nonetheless, or hoping for your little sister's success in a football match), to pray is usually a more deliberate act. All of the above examples could be considered valid content for a prayer, however when praying, a person is usually more focused on the reflection or hopeful request.
"Who cared if there was really any Being to pray to? What mattered was the sense of giving thanks and praise, the feeling of a humble and grateful heart." - Oliver Sacks, Neurologist
Beyond traditional religious reasons, prayer and meditation are two avenues to influencing the mind, a subject your DRE is particularly fascinated by as a neuroscientist. Consider this: think of one of your most peaceful memories. Really, take a minute away from this page, stare off into the distance, and put yourself fully in the memory. Perhaps it took place in nature, with family, or just before you fell fast asleep last night bundled up in a warm blanket. If you think of this memory long enough, remembering the smell of the place, the expression on your face, and the thoughts that filled your mind at that moment, you may start to feel more relaxed (deeper breaths, loosened shoulders, and a calm mood may be physical signs), even if you're reading this in the middle of a stressful day. Such is the awesome power of the mind, to convince yourself of living in better or different circumstances simply by thinking of them. And what's more exciting is that we have greater control of our feelings, moods, and consciousness than we may know! As Walt Disney once said, "Happiness is a state of mind!" More on that at the retreat...
Participating youth will be delighted to know that some of your favorite teachers are signed-up to lead your retreat program, including Karen Kyker Frey, Janie Spencer-Bellet, and Julianne McCall. A large portion of the schedule will be devoted to first-hand engagement with active and diverse meditative and prayer practices, when we will experience how people of many different religions connect with their most important values. Whether you develop some respect for what others cherish as sacred or add a component of what we learn to your own spiritual habits, this will be a retreat full of activity for the senses and perception!
EUU Teen Online Community
The EUU Teen Online Community is active year-round in providing a virtual space for EUU teenagers to share stories, activities, humor, and resources. Check it out at www.euu-youth.tumblr.com. This blog serves as a platform to share online news articles, videos, music, images, opportunities for social action, UU scholarships or student exchanges, etc. The approach can be thought-provoking, compassionate, humorous, or just plain silly and still worth sharing. The youth agree that twice a year is too seldom to connect with one another, so this online community contributes significantly to forming strong UU bonds across great distances and between retreats.
The blog is publicly accessible, and to contribute, youth need only to submit an email address. To be more actively involved, a free Tumblr account would be helpful to comment on others' posts and join discussion threads. The EUU DRE will serve as the administrator, ensuring that all posts and comments are reviewed before published. The EUU Youth Community will soon be represented as a Facebook Group, as well. That way, everyone has access to the online community, whether they're on FB or not.
This is a teens-only initiative, and further information about the concept, the content, and participation may be requested by emailing YouthRE@europeanuu.org.