A spiritual conversation group is a particular kind of small group where personal reflection, story telling and faith sharing may safely take place. While there is undoubtedly some element of all these activities in many of the other Christian contexts, a group of this kind has this mixture as its specific intention. As such it is fuelled by the willingness of participants to share something of their personal journey and their on-going discovery of the Divine Presence accompanying them on their way.
The term ‘conversation’ suggests both a particular attitude and a way of relating. There is an implied equality at the heart of the activity; a sense in which we are all in this together because what we are engaged in is common to human experience. Whether you are an Archbishop, a theologian or a semi-detached layperson, it does not seem to matter. If you are an articulate academic you may have the advantage of being able to express complex ideas, but your involvement in the group may be far less significant than the hesitant simple statements of someone with far fewer gifts. The reason for this is that what is being shared is not a set of intellectual propositions, but an experience of life and a journey of the heart. What emerges comes not so much from sophisticated mental processes but out of a particular orientation to life and to God. This orientation is that of the disciple, ‘the one who learns’, following in the footsteps of his Master, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. What is shared is the product of that relationship, however consciously or unconsciously the person speaking may be aware of it.
It will be obvious that process in such a group is much more important than content. The primary reason for meeting is to engage in spiritual conversation and in all good conversations there is no set outcome decided in advance. Nevertheless it remains a structured conversation which should not simply rest on the inclinations of participants at the time of their gathering.
While the experience itself can be surprising and spontaneous, sharing life and faith 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 needs to be established which is characterised, among other things, by group safety, trust, non-judgmental acceptance and openness to the perspective of others – something we are calling a ‘breathing space’.
For such an environment to exist it needs to be supported by a number of factors. These include:
- A clear methodology and pattern to meetings
- A negotiation around attitudes and behaviours
- Stability of group membership
- A shared commitment to the keeping of confidences
- The maintaining of an appropriate level of self-disclosure
- The avoidance of personal criticism
- Proper evaluative procedures at regular intervals
- Conscious acknowledgement of the silent presence of God
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The primary reason for meeting is to engage in spiritual conversation and in all good conversations there is no set outcome decided in advance. Nevertheless it remains a structured conversation which should not simply rest on the inclinations of participants at the time of their gathering.
SET OUT ON THE PILGRIMAGE
Welcome to the 2016 CTBI Lent course
The CTBI Lent Course 2016 represents a departure in style and format from that offered in previous years. Each week, we are invited to gather in groups for reflection and spiritual conversation around a series of themes drawn from the overarching title of Pilgrimage’. The idea is that we embark on a spiritual journey through Lent, both alone and in company, sharing with others our personal reflections, stories and insights.
The notion of ‘Pilgrimage’ is presented in the form of collections of sayings, images, wisdom and prayers from a variety of sources, which are gathered into a pack of seven conversation booklets suitable for personal and group use. Each member of a group will need their own copy of the pack, which will be used as a personal journal.
The Open Road
Where the invitation is to undertake a particular kind of journey, a sacred journey which involves both inner and outer dimensions. As we set out, what is our desire, or longing?
GO TO WEEK ONE
Taking and Leaving
Focus on choice. How do we choose what to keep, what we require for inner vitality and balance, and what to leave behind, things which may once have helped us but we now find burdensome and obstructive?
GO TO WEEK TWO
Where the invitation is to become more attentive to our surroundings Where are the signs of God’s presence around us? How do we stay open to new insights?
GO TO WEEK THREE
Alone and Together
Focuses on our relationships with others. In our search for ‘unity in diversity’, how do we learn from ‘the other’? What does it mean to be separate yet ‘one’?
GO TO WEEK FOUR
Living with Uncertainty
Where we think of times of alienation and separation that are common to us all. How do we live with unanswered questions? From where do we find hope?
GO TO WEEK FIVE
Where we are invited to contemplate the mystery of God at the heart of the Christian experience. Each step on the journey illuminates more questions, for example: what is the nature of suffering?
GO TO WEEK SIX
When we contemplate the significance of our pilgrim journey for the future. What people, networks, ideas, insights have we discovered that will continue to inspire us?
GO TO WEEK SEVEN