Another Kind of March Madness
In March, we notified the winner of our first scholarship contest! Thanks to a generous Board of Directors, we were also able to award 5 additional honorariums for excellence. These notifications were the culmination of seven months of focus and hard work for our Prayer Soup Team, including our Board of Directors, and ten additional intrepid souls: our Board of Advisors.
After seven months, there was more than one happy dance going on around here! We also had a lot of fist pumping! Wooo Hooo! A job well done! Some of this had to do with the satisfaction of completing a project, but also with the joy we felt at being able to recognize some of those who had shared their significant prayer experiences with us. We all agreed that it felt good to give money away! We liked it!
However, these seven months have not been all wine and roses!
We ran into an unexpected reality when judging the essays, and that was the level of excellence in the writing, story-telling and applied critical thinking. Our philosophy at Prayer Soup is that too often, the word "prayer" is used in the narrowest of ways, and we believe that prayer includes all the ways people seek to experience meaning and connection with others. In this way, the essays did not disappoint! The essays were very diverse, which is what we hoped for. Most traditional religions were covered, as were a host of non-traditional prayer experiences, and some from explicit non-believers. There was also a wide variety of life experiences to which prayer, in the broadest sense of the word, was applied. These included struggles with critical illnesses, depression, anxiety, domestic violence, loss and fear. Prayer turned out not always to be a panacea. There were happy endings, and not-so-happy endings, and sometimes, no "endings" at all, but jumping off places, and places of unexpected self-discovery.
With only one scholarship to give, we were faced with a wrenching dilemma: how do you judge someone's experience? How can we say one is "better", or more important than another? This sentiment was shared many times by our Advisors; "Good luck picking only one", said one Advisor.
The application of critical thinking was particularly important to us. We believe it's the questions we ask about our experiences, and the insight we gain from thinking about those questions, that deepen the meaning of our experiences.
In the end, we chose one that we felt represented our mission and philosophy in the broadest way. You can read the wonderful, winning essay, by Hannah Dercks, in this month's Food for Thought section.
Here's another reason for the happy dances around here: our goal at Prayer Soup is to encourage and support all people's efforts to share their prayer experiences. We believe that doing so will help us all recognize and celebrate the things we have in common. These last few months have allowed us to test that hypothesis, and it turns out to be true! The entire Prayer Soup Team has been honored and humbled by this remarkable sharing by teenagers all over the country. We will be publishing several other essays, and/or excerpts of essays, over the coming months. We invite you to share the wealth!