Friday, September 05, 2008

The "Mechanics" of Group Spiritual Formation: A Spiritual Conversation

Mindful that the goal is to help people help each other come to self-knowledge and self-mastery in light of the Tradition, I find it best to begin with a brief, 10 minute reflection on the text assigned for that meeting. As I have mentioned in another place, in this talk I will ALWAYS make three points:
  1. What is the aspect of the Christian faith illustrated by the text? ("What do we believe?")
  2. How in the Tradition of the Church is that faith typically embodied? ("How have the saints who have gone before us lived?") and finally,
  3. What are the typical obstacles and facilitating conditions for our incarnating the faith? ("How then are we to live?")
In presenting the opening talk, it is important that the group leader bear in mind that the objective here is three-fold. The talk should be (1) an inspirational reflection on the text (2) in light of what he or she has appropriated and applied from the text to their own life and (3) what the leader thinks is foundational for the group as a whole.

So in a group of retired men and women, for example, the fact that the director is quite taken with the Pilgrim reciting the Jesus Prayer 10,000 or more times a day, doesn't mean he should suggest this as a standard to be imitated by the group. But he might reflect on how overwhelming is the Pilgrim's example but how it has inspired him to set aside a few minutes at the beginning and end of everyday to recite the Jesus Prayer. Or, how he recites the prayer at quiet moments during the day. And all of this might be introduced by the Scripture command to pray constantly as a command to be always mindful of the Presence of Christ in our life.

Learning how do offer a talk that is inspirational in character takes practice. One sign that a speaker has learned to do so is the response s/he gets from the group. The initial talk is meant to be a stimulus for conversation in the group. For this reason there needs to be clear a transition from conference to conversation. Leaders need to be attentive therefore to tone, gesture, etc. There are three intertwining methods:
  1. The leader might wish to ask the participants to discuss those parts of the assigned text that they resonate with/resisted.
  2. Sharing of reflections/thoughts by the participants in the service of the group helping each other in their journey toward self-knowledge and self-mastery.
  3. Integration and articulation of the suggestions for the spiritual life that are not only held in common but which people in the group as particularly important.
Obviously, I have only offered a very brief sketch here the process of group formation. And it should be clear that what I have outlined is very demanding of the group leader. In the next series of posts I want to speak directly about the group leader and his or her relationship with the parish priest.

As always, your questions, comments, criticism are most welcome and actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory