In this day when the burdens of humanity press so heavily upon us I would begin not first with techniques of service but with the most “Serious Call to a Devout Life,” a life of such humble obedience to the Inner Voice as we have scarcely dared to dream. Hasten unto Him who calls you in the silence of your heart. The Hound of Heaven is ever near us, the voice of the Shepherd is calling us home.
—Thomas Kelly (Quaker, 1945), from A Testament of Devotion
THE PANDEMIC SHUT DOWN THE POSSIBILITY for in-person retreats indefinitely. Retreats were the backbone of the Way of the Spirit program I direct. This summer, the new reality plunged me into big questions: How could the program even continue?
IT WAS A HOLY EXPERIMENT. In May we asked, ‘How might a full, five-day retreat happen ONLINE for the Way of the Spirit program I direct?’ It’s thrilling and deeply gratifying to report that the May retreat conveyed and enfolded us with the same Life and Power as being “in person.” The medium came alive and did God’s work.
WE ARE ALL EXPERIENCING NEW WAYS OF CONNECTING for worship and mutual support online. Some gatherings are more satisfying than others. What helps? This post speaks to facilitators of small group sessions for spiritual encouragement and growth—retreats, spiritual workshops, and faith sharing or “spiritual nurture” groups. These hints and guidelines may be helpful to as we transition from face-to-face interactions into online video conferencing. Read below or download PDF here. If questions or additional suggestions rise, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About me: I’ve been offering retreats and workshops for Quakers in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska for nearly 15 years. Over eight years directing the Way of the Spirt retreat and learning program, I’ve practiced many ways to foster a tone of prayer and reflection for participants. Since early 2019, I’ve been experimenting with online video conferencing using the Zoom platform. Way of the Spirit groups of 6-20 participants are now gathering online to spiritually explore, share wisdom, and mutually nurture each others’ lives of faith. Now a global pandemic has me offering online retreats at least through June 2020.Continue reading→
IF WE CARE ABOUT vibrant, transformative faith communities, how do we help it happen? That’s the ideal we foster in Way of the Spirit—an 18 month program for learning and spiritual growth from Quaker spirituality. Over the years, we’ve taken up the phrase, “listening in tongues” to remind us of both practical behaviors and an inner orientation to each other across our range of experiences and vocabularies about the Holy, God, or the Spirit.
I wonder how your faith community practices “listening in tongues.”
RECENT TRAVELS BROUGHT ME FACE TO FACE with people who think and talk about God very differently than me or my little Quaker meeting on Whidbey Island, in Washington State. There were different expressions, songs, and theological emphases, yet I experienced the same Spirit flowing. The Holy One was weaving Goodness in Wisconsin for my nephew’s confirmation in the Lutheran Church.
MANY OF US WERE TAUGHT TO MISTRUST OUR OWN SOULS or at best to minimize our inner lives in faith. Go to church, know the Bible, and be kind to others… Instead, I’m reflecting on Advent as a profound inner journey of hope and joyful promise. Will you join me?
We know the commercial and social frenzy of December is at odds with nature’s inward turning, hibernation, and fallow fields, at least in the northern hemisphere. The visible flurry of Christmas in North America also obscures the ancient call to spiritual contemplation in the Christian season of Advent.
I really appreciate the heart of Advent. The wider Christian calendar overlaps with some of the sensibilities of everyday Quaker spirituality, my lived faith. With Quakers, I honor quiet waiting for the Divine. My spirit echoes the inner longing of the Christmas hymns in minor keys. Something in me reawakens with familiar Advent scripture readings. The ol’ texts dignify dreams and mysterious angelic visitations, the call to awareness or “staying awake,” and an authentic “yes” to God’s desires. Continue reading→
What makes Way of the Spirit so profound for participants? In part, it’s the approach I’ve tried to describe below. Is this for someone you know? 2019 retreat cycle begins February 15-18. Details: https://goodnewsassoc.org/spirit/
THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT APPROACH to retreats and spiritual growth is “experiential”. The specifics of one’s experience, character, activities, and sensibilities matter in the life of faith. Program participants bring who they are, as authentically as they are able, into each retreat, into reflection, and into dialogue with program content and each other. They also experience new spiritual practices, people, and ways of talking about their lives with God. This post offers questions or queries to help engage you (Yes, you!) experientially in reflection, right now. There are no right or wrong answers, only opportunities to notice and articulate what is real for you.
How do you experience the Holy?
Responses to the query above are unique to each of us. Hard to talk about though. The question is not about what you believe or think about God. “How do you experience the Holy?” points toward the whens, wheres, and hows. If you’ve never reflected this way about faith, try it. You could recall places or times that touch something of the sacred for you. You could appreciate your bodily responses to situations, your “cues” that something of the Divine may be moving in you, between you and others, or beyond you. Way of the Spirit builds attentiveness to subtle intuitions and sensibilities. It strengthens invisible spiritual muscles for all situations and tasks.
A FRIEND BICYCLED 2,700 MILES THIS SUMMER along the Continental Divide. In a newspaper feature piece, she described a key question that carried her through the challenges:
“When doing endurance races, I have a question I ask myself when I want to quit: Am I in danger or just uncomfortable? If I’m just uncomfortable, I tell myself to keep going. Things will get better. And they usually do.” 1
“Am I in danger, or just uncomfortable?” is a really useful question for anyone committed to a long-term effort to stretch physically. The beauty of the question is that it applies spiritually too, because growth in a God-centered life asks us to build faithful, trusting soul-muscle strength for the long haul. Continue reading→
WHAT TO MAKE OF AN ODD OVERLAPPING of circumstance? When these things happen (and they DO) I often wonder who I’ll tell. Who would believe me, or “get” the meaning I make of it all? A summer story is just too fun to keep quiet about.
Imagine me praying on a beach. Bright hot day. A friend and I are huddled against a drift log, in the shade of a giant green and white umbrella. Families, kids, and dog walkers are dotted across acres of open sand at low tide. The praying was meant to close our accompaniment time. She’d asked. I gulped inwardly, still not confident with saying out loud what’s going on with me and God. I aim to be authentic, and my verbal prayers are very free form. So, this time I’m winging it with whatever comes to mind from our time together. Continue reading→
Spiritual retreats are powerful opportunities to cultivate our best intentions for a life of faith, and help to grow the kind of courage needed to act as led by the Spirit.
Strengthen our best intentions
Retreats are all about intention—where you are aiming, or your sense of purpose. To be clear, intentions are not the same as New Years resolutions. Most of those well-meant goals fade after six weeks or so of challenges and weakening willpower. Intentions do something different inside us. They orient us through trial and error, both success and failure. They help convert an inner sense of Divine guidance into determined action. Continue reading→