This post is an overview of our new small group and recap of our meetup in January.
This month The Open Table is beginning an ongoing small group gathering for adults who would like to explore or deepen their spiritual practices and build community. It’s called “The Way Is Made by Walking” or just “The Way”. The group will meet on the the third Sundays of the month from 2:00-3:30 p.m., either at Second Presbyterian Church or as a field trip to another space. Each time we’ll engage in prayer, scripture, conversation, and a workshop time so we can both reflect on the practices and try them out! For those who wish to continue the practice throughout the month, resources will be provided for doing so in creative ways. We realize spiritual growth comes gradually and is best done alone and in community, so we’re making room for these things.
The group will be facilitated by our Assistant Curator, Wendie Brockhaus, who has an MDiv and Certificate in Spiritual Formation. As a former vocal music teacher, Director of Spiritual Formation at a local seminary, and hospital chaplain, she brings a creative and thoughtful perspective to ancient and modern spiritual practices. She will be joined by various co-leaders from The Open Table throughout the year.
In preparation for our time together, we shared the following story (author unknown)…
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. “Teach me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”
How do we become the kind of people who are peaceful, loving, and generous, even in adversity? That is our guiding question, our prayer and vision for this small group.
JANUARY: INTENTIONS & ACTION
Our first set of practices for the month of January were “Intentions and Action”. We started out by talking about what we mean when we say “spirituality” or “spiritual formation”. What is it and why does it matter? As it turns out, there are many definitions for spirituality, but below are a few examples from scholars and theologians:
- Marjorie Thompson – how we live in relation to transcendent truth, grounded in relationship
- Paul Tillich – the ground of our being
- Rosemary Ruether – the matrix surrounding and sustaining all life
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the beyond in our midst
- Karl Rahner – the holy mystery
- Phyllis Tickle – a place of unknowing: the domain of the soul…
- Phyllis Tickle’s agnostic friend – like heaven naked, but with an attitude
- Suzanne Johnson – our self-transcendent capacity as human beings to recognize and participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all creation
- Gustavo Gutierrez – a walking in freedom according to the Spirit of love and life; this walking has its point of departure in an encounter with the Lord
Given the abundance of definitions, we are aware that there is wisdom to be found in many places, with many persons. No one tradition can fully express the mystery, and we think that’s beautiful! For Christians, spiritual formation has to do with how we are shaped into the pattern of life modeled by Jesus, through God’s Spirit. Below are some words of wisdom which relate to these definitions and themes:
When God began to create the heavens and the earth—the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters… – Genesis 1:1-2
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16
Seek not to follow in the footsteps of [people] of old; rather, seek what they sought. – Gautama Buddha
The whole way to heaven is heaven itself. – Teresa of Avila
In Genesis 1:1-2, “breath, wind, spirit” is ruach, a Hebrew word which is roughly translated as “energy of life”. Spirituality seems to be about movement, which is demonstrated in biblical stories where the people of God are on the move–they may not know exactly where, but they are faithful to go. Christianity is about progressive movement in a particular direction – the way of Jesus.
Why do we need to be intentional about “practicing” our spirituality, and what are the benefits of doing so? Dr. Howard Thurman, cofounder of the first interracially pastored, intercultural church in the U.S. and one of the spiritual advisors of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., believed it was the responsibility of the church to teach not just the nuts and bolts of the faith, but also the “interior life”:
In a world of tremendous upheaval such as ours, where almost all of the old moorings are uprooted and it is simply maddening to try to secure and maintain one’s bearing and sense of direction, the Church must primarily be a place of instruction…In the first place, [people] must be taught the content of the Christian faith….The second area has to do with the interior life. What is the significance of spiritual exercises?….What techniques and methods are available for deepening one’s sense of the presence of God and how may one work in the world courageously and intelligently on behalf of a decent world, without despair and complete fatigue? What are the resources for personal rehabilitation and renewal?
Dr. King himself had certain spiritual intentions and actions which helped guide the nonviolent protests of the civil rights movement:
- Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
- Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
- Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
- Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
- Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
- Observe with friend and foe the ordinary rule of courtesy.
- Seek to perform regular service for others and the world.
- Refrain from violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
- Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
- Follow the directions of the movement and the captains of a demonstration.
And Dorothy Day, who began a ministry called “houses of hospitality” for the poor in New York, received Communion daily, read the Bible daily, and kept a journal that was a form of prayer.
These are just a few examples of the ways we might order our time. When we make spiritual practices part of our lives and daily routines, they start to shape us and affect us in positive ways we might not have imagined. Some of the benefits include: becoming more centered in love; greater focus on God; becoming more present to self, others, the world, and God; self-acceptance and acknowledgment of our impermanence; gratitude; ability to move forward because we more easily recognize what hinders us; renewal and resilience; bearing fruit (such as the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control); growth in wisdom, generosity, and compassion; and a more mindful/less reactive response to life.
Do any of these reasons ring true for you? Or are there any which you would like to see happen in your life? Our hope is that by the end of this year, by participating in this group, you will identify a handful of spiritual formation practices which will help you grow and be sustained for your lifelong journey of the spirit.
OPTIONS FOR EXPLORING THIS MONTH’S PRACTICES
When our group met, we put together vision boards, and it was a meaningful experience to share these together. On your own, you can try that out for yourself, or one of the other options below!
- Create a vision board with images (magazine clippings, photos, etc.), quotations, or other symbols which will help remind you who you are and what intentions and actions you’ve selected to focus on! You may choose to address your faith and spiritual practices, your work, how/with whom you will spend your time, where you would like to live, what you would like to be doing, etc. Return to it throughout the month/year to reflect on how you’re doing.
- Identify a key person or two who will support you in making life changes and goals. Share with them your intentions and ask them to commit to support you through prayer this year. You may also ask them to check in with you regularly to celebrate your successes and encourage you when you struggle. You may also need to limit contact with people who are openly hostile or critical of the changes you are making to care for yourself.
- Try out the Personal Journaling Exercise and see where it takes you. If you get stuck, ask us or one of your support people for help. This exercise has to do with constructing a sustaining personal narrative which helps define us and tell our story.
- Think about the “chapters” of your life, as though it were a book. You may want to give each chapter a name and brief description.
- Describe 8 key events in your story, in detail (for example: a high or low point, a turning point, an earliest memory, an important event from your childhood or adolescence or adulthood, or another important memory).
- Describe 4 of the most important people in your life story. At least one should not be a relative.
- What might be the script/plan/chapter for what happens next in your life? Describe your overall dream for the future, or an outline if you have one.
- Describe 2 areas in your life where you are currently experiencing a significant stress, a major conflict, or a difficult problem or challenge that must be addressed. Describe the nature of the situation, how it developed, and your plan for dealing with it (if you have one).
- Describe your core personal beliefs and values. Include your religious beliefs if applicable.
- Reflect on everything you’ve written so far. What overall life themes emerge? Are there any parts of your narrative which are shaping you in a negative way? How might you reframe them so you can move forward in a healthy way?
- Plan ways to revisit your findings regularly by scheduling weekly, monthly, and yearly goals in your calendar which correspond to the life narrative you want to build.
Hopefully this blog post helped orient you to what this small group is about, and also to our January practices of action and intention. In closing, here is the poem which helped name our group. We are on this pilgrimage with God. It will be gradual and imperfect, but we will make our way together.
The Way Is Made By Walking
Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.
-Antonio Machado, “Proverbios y cantares XXIX” in Campos de Castilla
COMING NEXT MONTH
Our next group meetup will be on February 18 and will focus on Prayer and Scripture. Join us at 2:00 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church for our second gathering of The Way! These are drop-in sessions, so you do not have to attend them in order, and there is no charge to take part.
Sources used in preparation for this month’s group:
- Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson
- Biblical Foundations of Spirituality: Touching a Finger to the Flame by Barbara E. Bowe
- Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People by Dorothy C. Bass, ed.
- Deep Is the Hunger by Howard Thurman
- Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction by Jeannette A. Bakke
- Re-Discovering the Sacred: Spirituality in America by Phyllis A. Tickle
- An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
- The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello