Preparing the space
Finding or creating a suitable context for graceful conversation is highly significant. It could be simply a matter of arranging to meet with a close friend with whom you can talk freely, but more commonly, it is about meeting with perhaps eight to ten others for a slightly more formal exchange.
While the experience itself can be surprising and spontaneous, spiritual conversation in groups is an intentional activity, requiring boundaries and shared commitments – many of which need to be negotiated in advance. While a positive interaction can never be assured, what seems to be essential is the creation of a certain type of environment. A social setting characterized by group safety, trust, non-judgmental acceptance and openness to the perspective of others.
The creation of such a safe, sacred space is a collective responsibility to which all may contribute by:
- Listening carefully to whoever is speaking.
- Reverencing the gift of each person’s unique experience.
- Respecting everyone’s right to their own opinion.
- Being open to modifying your own perspective.
- Choosing not to make judgements about other group members.
- Refraining from speaking for too long.
- Owning their own views and speaking only for themselves.
- Keeping a sense of humour and perspective.
- Respecting the confidentiality of this small group.
- Being prepared to apologise, if necessary, and to forgive often.
A Suitable Small Group Process
Most people joining a group of any kind have concerns about the way it is going to operate. In the sort of group we are envisaging it is difficult enough speaking about things that are close to your heart without having to worry about what might happen next. With this in mind I would like to suggest a particular methodology that you may wish to adopt. While not ‘set in stone’ it describes a well-tried small group interaction, which has proved very valuable in providing a context for spiritual conversation. It has enough structure to allow people new to this activity to feel comfortable and yet is not so confining that it prevents a meaningful response.
- prayer (prior to meeting)
- preparation of the space
Welcome and Prayer
- welcome and “how are you?”
- shared silence and opening prayer
Stimulus and Reflection
- introduction to the theme
- stimulus material
- time alone for individual reflection
Sharing and Conversation
- the sharing of experience
Review and Prayer
- looking back
- shared silence and closing prayer
- refreshments and informal chat
(The different parts of the process are explained in the book ‘Breathing Spaces’ by Mark Davis which is available for purchase. They are also examined in detail during our training process for facilitators.)