“Pray as you can and do not pray as you can’t. Take yourself as you find yourself; start from that.” — Dom Chapman
The school year 2014 - 2015 at Holy Trinity Catholic schools has as its theme Lord Teach Us to Pray, so this year our staff retreats focused on the idea of prayer, but prayer connected to the concept of multiple intelligences and how that helps us to understand how and why particular ways of praying draw us into meaningful connection with God and the community. What follows then is an understanding of how can we apply that to our school and classroom prayer. As well, we looked at our long and rich tradition of diverse Catholic prayer and how long before the expression multiple intelligences came into being, the different prayer needs of a large community of believers were being met.
Self-knowledge is key to growing in our awareness of what makes us tick and why we do what we do. In other words, who I am is how I pray. Exploring the nine intelligences can help us in understanding ourselves. Those with Verbal-Linquistic Intelligence are sensitive to the sounds, meanings, order and rhythm of words. They love to read, write and tell stories. Pope John Paul II was strong in this intelligence. This is the one most emphasized in school systems. Prayer using Scripture, meditative reading, poetry and journalling in prayer appeal to this intelligence.
Logical-Mathematical Intelligence loves an atmosphere of consistency and order. They love logical or numerical patterns and when it comes to God they thrive on connections. The rosary, novenas, any sacred object that helps them to make connections to God, are prayer opportunities that appeal to this intelligence.
A Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence has the ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timbre in various forms of musical expression. This intelligence can express prayer in liturgical dance, writing a song, drumming, listening to music that speaks to them of God, or playing their prayer with a musical instrument.
Visual-Spatial Intelligence is present in people who can see form, colour, shape and texture in their mind’s eye and are easily able to transfer those elements to concrete representations. Thus the sign of the cross, Way of the Cross, icons, artwork, candles, prayer space/table, good liturgical environments are springboards of prayer for this intelligence as they can see the unseen when they make the connection from symbol to God.
Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence finds wonder in the tastes, smells and sounds of the world. They feel it in the movement of their bodies and the creation all around them. They would savour the incense burned at liturgy and the sound of bells. Clapping, dancing, swaying, turning, bending, anything that involves the body is a way to give praise and connect to God.
Naturalist Intelligence is one that is sensitive to the natural world. This intelligence often has the ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature. This intelligence loves ritual because rituals often carry with them the rhythm of life, the ebb and flow of classification. The tradition of pilgrimage and retreats, the journey to a holy place (external) or a search for an exalted purpose (internal) is meaningful for this intelligence.
Interpersonal Intelligence has the ability to intuit and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others. They have the ability to work co-operatively in a group and are good communicators. Group prayer encounters, celebrating important rituals together with others, the feeling of being connected with hundreds or thousands of people who have uttered the same prayer is very meaningful for this intelligence.
People with Intrapersonal Intelligence know themselves. They know their feelings and emotional responses and are often given to self-reflection. They have a great sense of the spiritual and look at the deeper picture not easily seen. The prayer of this intelligence can be full of both struggle and insight. They easily take on the identity of people from Scripture, thinking about how they felt and thought. Using a prayer mat or chair and becoming quiet in order to listen to what God is saying, resting in God and prayer using guided imagery speak to this intelligence.
Lastly, Existential Intelligence includes those who revel in asking themselves the hard questions like Who am I? Why am I here? What does God want from me? Why does God allow people to suffer? Silence and contemplation and using lectio divina are meaningful forms of prayer for people with this intelligence.
Feedback from the staff retreats were very positive with many saying they had learned a lot about themselves and how they pray. Staff members expressed feelings of being affirmed in the way they pray, seeing it as one facet of the multi-faceted diamond that is the rich tradition of prayer in the Catholic Church. They hoped to apply their newfound insights in their classrooms and schools.
In the multiplicity of God’s creative energy we can give praise, adore, give thanks, ask, seek and find ways that are meaningful to each of us. As Thomas Keating said, “The only way you can fail at prayer is to not show up.”
Cey is Religious Education Consultant for Holy Trinity Catholic School Division in Moose Jaw, Sask.