Small-Group Session (1 of 2)
Before the session starts, the leader should set chairs in a circle, with a chalice and matches on a small table in the middle, or somewhere visible to participants. Make sure the strips of paper for “Readings from the Common Bowl” are in the bowl. Welcome people, and allow folks to settle before lighting the chalice.
Chalice Lighting and Opening Words
The group leader lights the chalice (or asks someone else to) and then, with the intent of creating sacred space, reads the following words:
Excerpt from Rainfall, Andrew Motion
With acknowledgments to “Rain” by Cynthia Barnett
Whether the rain on Mars was delicate or brutal whether it was blue or gray
whether it fell on bare rocks that remained bare or on fertile ground
that raised large forests of leafing trees it could not last.
Mars froze eventually in the same duration that Venus by contrast
bowed her burning head in noxious vapors and gas clouds.
On planet Earth meanwhile after half a billion years of continuous volcano-havoc, meteor storms
earthquakes, and lightning strikes
vapor stored in the atmosphere eventually began falling.
It soothed the fires.
When the fires died it fell silently on the first outcrops of moss.
On the tender grass with a sizzle.
With more strenuous drumming on the resilient fronds of ferns.
It became an orchestra of millions across the luxurious expanse of the tree canopy.
After a summer of twelve thousand years, after the interruptions of ice, after one particular inundation
and the shadow of an ark darkening fish-shoals as they scooted over hills and valleys
after the blaze of one civilization then another
after the destruction of several experiments with law and order
after the extinction of many beautiful languages
rain by and large found its place in the scheme of things.
It began to defeat its purpose on the private sky of umbrellas.
It babbled through long green fields and melted into the seams of poetry.
It larked in the puddle of its many names.
Cobblers and chair legs and pipe stems.
Frogs and jugs and beards.
Cats and dogs.
Although they are shaped like a parachute
thanks to the air pressure beneath them raindrops explode on landing.
Then the sun bears down again fitting his monocle into his eye.
The glass flashes and burns.
The rain sweats and evaporates into the ocean of its air.
The ocean continues on its way continually overflowing here and there
in quick little splashes or reckless floods and drenching.
It is delicate or brutal.
It is blue sometimes and sometimes gray.
Sometimes it falls on bare rocks
at others it raises large forests of leafing trees.
Invite each person, in turn, to share a brief answer to the check-in question. The check-in question is: “How are you doing?”
Readings from the common bowl
The leader passes around the bowl, with strips of paper that have quotes on them. Invites each person to take one strip/quote out of the bowl. Then, invites each to read the quotes. They don’t have to read in order, one right next to the last one. But instead, invite them to allow some silence after every quote, and then to see if the quote they picked out of the bowl should go next or not. (See additional page for quotes; these are the quotes that will be torn into separate strips, and put in the bowl before the meeting)
After everyone has read the different statements, the leader asks the central question that will guide the session’s discussion: “Describe an experience of astonishment. How does it shape how you live?”
Leader invites attendees to take no more than 2 minutes to share a response to the question. Find a way to gently hold the group to the no-more-than-2-minute limit. Also, let people know there’s no cross-talk to the responses: group-members don’t answer the statements people make. One person speaks for oneself, then the next person does the same. It’s not a conversation, so much as a series of statements. Again, each with some silence or space between. And, again, voices don’t need to go in order, with people sitting beside each other speaking—just as the spirit moves.
After hearing everyone’s statements, the leader invites the group to sit in silence for 2-3 minutes. This is not time for them to plan what they’ll say. It’s time to sit and be present, to let whatever comes up, come up.
Second round, reflections on what was heard, with additional thoughts
Whereas in the first round, attendees were encouraged to stick to their own thoughts, here in the second round, people can respond to some of what they heard. Again, encourage brevity—whether a formal 2-minute limit is enforced or not, encourage the conversation to move from one place to another in the circle, not getting dragged down to one or two voices who speak at length. It’s OK for people to respond to each other’s comments but the responses should not be attempts to fix a dilemma raised, correct someone’s feelings or .
Likes and wishes
The leader asks for people to share, as they’re moved, what they liked about the session, and what they wish for next time, that they may or may not have experienced this time.
Closing Words & Extinguishing the Chalice
Curiosity tumble within
Wondering stir me
Cosmos and heavens collide
Open the soul and the heart
Neurons firing leaping synapse to synapse
Soul to soul
Day to Day.
Quotes for The Common Bowl
“A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“To science, not even the bark of a tree or a drop of pond water is dull or a handful of dirt banal. They all arouse awe and wonder.”
“Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
― Albert Einstein
“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”
― Cormac McCarthy, The Road
“If I had influence with the good fairy... I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
“I'd known that I had the capacity to love, that I enjoyed seeing other people be happy, that I had a real awe and wonder about the beauty of this world.”
“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.”
“Those who are Awake live in a state of constant amazement.”
“The launch of a space shuttle can still make you weep with amazement and wonder, if you happen to be watching it.”