By Mary Linda McKinney
Our Faithful Meetings program has three primary components: An online classroom, learning sessions for the whole community, and small spiritual formation groups. Today, I’ll introduce you to Faithful Meetings spiritual formation and we’ll look at the other two parts of the program in future Snapshots.
I love doing spiritual formation in small groups and have found it invaluable for my spiritual and emotional growth. I have participated in a number of spiritual formation programs over the years and am currently in two small groups. One group has been meeting for several years and the other for 18 months. One is local and we have resumed gathering in person. The other takes place via Zoom with folks in three U.S. states, two countries and sometimes three time zones. One is very informal. The other started off extremely structured and has relaxed to meet the needs of the participants. In both groups, I am able to talk openly about my spiritual-emotional life. In both, I can tell the group what I need from them and know they will hear and respect what I say. In both, I listen to the others and receive what they share with loving attention. With each group, I feel Spirit’s presence and a heart-felt connection with people who have become soul friends.
Spiritual formation is different things for different people. For some, it is folks engaging with the same media and discussing it, like a book discussion group. For others, it is a time to get to know one another in a friendly way. Some learn and practice the tenets of their faith together. Others intentionally examine the spiritual grounding of something they share, like similar employment, an identity, or experience.
In Faithful Meetings spiritual formation, the focus is on sharing what is most alive for us in our lives through the lens of our spirituality. Gathering in a small group for two hours once a month, Friends have the opportunity to share the stories of our lives with one another. When we talk about our spiritual lives in a small group, we get to know one another in new and deeper ways. We learn to be vulnerable with one another, to share things that are usually kept hidden. We learn to nurture and support and to witness one another with loving attention. When we hear one another’s stories, the joyful, the heavy and the completely mundane, we learn to recognize all that is holy in the everyday.
I will use myself as an example. My mother has dementia and recently began home hospice services. I have a therapist I can talk with about my grief and the emotional challenges of being available to my father and siblings with our complicated dynamics. In spiritual formation, I bring an intention to see it all as spiritual. Exploring my thoughts and feelings in a small group encourages me to find new insight into my relationships with God and my family, as well as with myself. Friends in my small groups may offer gentle questions or reflections that help me see my story with greater perspective, allowing me to change and grow or sometimes just to rest.
But let’s say I arrive at a monthly spiritual formation group meeting having no idea what I want to share about. Rather than just talking about the generalities of my life, I can take a couple of minutes to look through a set of prompts to find one that speaks to my condition. The Faithful Meetings online classroom holds many simple queries and topics that folks can use to “prime the pump” so spiritual formation group meetings don’t become informal social gatherings but rather a space where Friends can anticipate depth and groundedness. Each person can choose the question that they find most meaningful from a list that includes:
- What is something you have carried that feels ready to be released?
- To what have you been faithful?
- How do you feel your understanding of the Divine evolving or changing?
- When have you felt awe?
Faithful Meetings spiritual formation groups will be formed to meet in-person, by Zoom, or with the option for a group to meet asynchronously [not at the same time] entirely on-line in the Faithful Meetings classroom forum. Those who meet in the classroom will post about their spiritual lives through writing. They, too, can share about what is alive for them or they can respond to one of the queries. They can connect with one another and build community the way early Friends often did, through text-based communication.
Faithful Meetings is designed so that individuals can participate in the parts of the program that they have the time, energy, and interest in. Some Friends will want to engage in every aspect of the program but others may only have the time for one or two activities each month. Spiritual formation may be the exact thing one person is longing for but another person may not have the emotional band-width or extra time to engage in it and that’s absolutely okay! Whatever part of the Faithful Meetings program a person participates in–even if it is reading one brief quote and having a short conversation about it online or in person–they are participating in the program. The entire community is enriched by the participation of each person and together they will grow as a faithful meeting.