Thursday, July 19, 2007

Growing In the Light

Caroline and I are in the process of organizing a spiritual formation group. She suggested the name "Growing In the Light" which I think is perfect. We have a schedule and I made a brochure which I printed and also sent to Dick so he could send it out via email.

I've spent quite a bit of time since Penny told me about them, researching spiritual formation groups on the internet. A number of Friends Meetings have held SFGs and there are schedules and reading lists and other information that I've been able to glean from. It seems that one Meeting created the format and all the others used that format. It looks like this:

Our basic text is Listening Spirituality, Vol 1 by Patricia Loring. This is a good introduction to spiritual disciplines and practices, from a Quaker point of view.
Carol Conti-Entin, Improvisation & Spiritual Disciplines: Continuing the Human-Divine Duet
October: Introduction to Spiritual Life
Tilden Edwards, Living in the Presence: Spiritual Exercises to Open Our Lives to the Awareness of God
November: The Wider Tradition: Our Christian Roots
Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith
December: Prayer I
Sheila Keene, Prayer: Beginning Again, Pendle Hill Pamphlet #339
January: Prayer II
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion: Chapters 1 and 2.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
The Inward Journey of Isaac Pennington (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #29)
February: Worship
William Tabor, Four Doors to Meeting for Worship, PHP # 306
Barry Morley, Beyond Consensus, Salvaging the Sense of the Meeting. PHP # 307
For Mid-Winter Retreat (Date): Marcelle Martin, Invitation to a Deeper Communion, PHP # 366.
March: Living Our Testimonies: Simplicity, Peace, and Integrity
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion: Chapter 5, "The Simplification of Life"
Elaine Prevallet, Reflections on Simplicity, PHP #244
Sandra Cronk, Peace Be With You, A Study of the Spiritual Basis of the Friends Peace Testimony, The Tract Association of Friends.
Wilmer Cooper, The Testimony of Integrity in the Religious Society of Friends, PHP #296
April: Mysticism and Activism: Learning from John Woolman and Thomas Kelly
Michael Birkel, A Near Sympathy: The Timeless Wisdom of John Woolman
Thomas Kelly, "The Eternal Now and Social Concern" (Ch. 4 in Testament of Devotion)
May: Individual and Community
Thomas Gates, Members of One Another: The Dynamics of Membership in Quaker Meeting (PHP # 371)
Marty Grundy, Some Thoughts on the Relationship between an Individual and the Meeting (Photocopy).
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion: Chapter 3, "The Blessed Community"
Sandra Cronk, Gospel Order: A Quaker Understanding of Faithful Church Community
June: Discernment of Ministry

Some of the books and pamphlets on this list I have read and learned from; many I've never heard of and want to read. But when I began thinking about structuring monthly meetings, different words came into my head; words like "movement," "obedience" and "gifts". When I was talking with Caroline about what we are going to do and how we are going to make it happen, I showed her the outline that others have used and mentioned, casually, that I kept thinking of these other words.

Let me say here that I have never been good at coloring inside the lines. I'm not good at following patterns laid out for me by others. I'm not good at following directions or working according to any recipe or outline. I don't know why. When I encounter anything that is a form to follow I always find a way to modify and improvise which, of course, makes my life much harder. If I could do a) b) and then move on to step c) I would know the beginning, middle and end but noooo. I read a) and think: "I think I'll substitute this for that. It will be more meaningful and relevant and we'll skip b) altogether but instead will do this activity and listen to this song for discussion and then take a walk in the woods". etc. You get the idea. So, my whole life I've been flying by the seat of my pants, figuring everything out as I went along. No guide books for me, no sir! I want to write the book myself! But you know, it's exhausting always rewriting the book. Why do I put myself through it?

Anyway, I mentioned the words to Caroline, really in passing, but she said she loved them. I tried talking her out of going our own way. I explained that if we follow what others have done there will be much less work to do but she was already adding her own ideas which, I have to say, round out mine very nicely. Here's our schedule:

September 8 & 9: Opening retreat
Exploring Spiritual Practices
October 16: Prayer
November 20: Gratitude
December 18: Gifts
January (TBA): Midwinter Saturday retreat
Discovering God Through Our Senses
February 19: Movement, Stillness, Sound and Silence
March 18: Obedience
April 15: Nurturing and Nature
May (TBA): Closing retreat
Having Bloomed: Fruits of Our Labor

So, in our way, we're reinventing the wheel. But that's what felt right to us to do. What we decided was, rather than go to the retreat with a list of books that participants have to read, we'd ask folks to contemplate the focus for each month's meetings and bring books or other resources to the opening retreat. At the retreat, we'll let the group choose the materials we'll use to explore each theme.

Let me take a moment to express my gratitude and happiness to have a spiritual community that is so supportive and nurturing of me. When I first spoke with Caroline about this, she was enthusiastic. She took it to Ministry and Council last month and she said everyone there supported the idea. I often feel like a rebellious teen playing at being a grown-up; most often because of my inability to follow directions and my compulsion to do things my own way which usually seems haphazard and unpolished. My community, however, understands my earnestness and sees the lack of polish as positive energy and creativity. I thank God for Nashville Friends Meeting and the wonderful souls who love me and help to guide me and encourage me to grow and mature.

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