"Giving Praise"

Small-Group Session (1 of 2)


Facilitator Notes:

 Read the session packet a few days ahead of time. It makes a difference.  Please note that we have made some changes. If you choose the optional components, your session can last 2 hours.  If you remove all optional components, then you should anticipate a session which is one-hour in length.

 Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out.   Email Fred Holland at who can help connect you to one of our facilitator coaches.

 Set up:  Locate and distribute the meeting’s materials as described in the packet. Examples: clipboards, paper, pens, tea lights. You may want to consider creating a special ritual space (bringing a chalice you love) that will help ground the group process each time.

 Our sessions are developed in the model of Parker Palmer’s Circles of Trust.  For further reading, we strongly encourage you to take a look at


Session 1

CONNECT - 30 minutes or less (optional, with exception of the chalice lighting)

 Materials needed: Candle/chalice, matches, and, if chosen, materials for connect session (see below) and sand timer for check-in.

  CONNECT is meant to be casual and social, especially in the first session of a group. The host welcomes everyone to get food/drinks and to catch up with one another. When all have arrived, the facilitator can move the group into an activity, remembering that some participants come for the social interaction. Or you can move the group into the chalice lighting and check-in question.  You may also consider a shared ritual for your connect time.  Some groups will begin with each placing an object on a created altar space with others using a fun ice-breaker.  Consider how long your group has been connected as you determine the best way to shift from the daily pace to this more intentional place.  

Connect- Social time/group ritual or ice-breaker (10 minutes)  (Optional.  We recommend engaging in this connect time particularly if it is your first, second or third session together) 

Sample ice-breaker: 

Take small slips of paper.  Invite everyone to write a fun fact that no one knows about them.  Then, you can toss the papers into a basket or bowl. Invite people to pull out a piece of paper and try to discover who wrote what they have down. 

Chalice Lighting (3 minutes) 

Praise Song –Barbara Crooker

Praise the light of late November,

the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.

Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;

though they are clothed in night, they do not

despair. Praise what little there’s left:

the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,

shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow

of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,

the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky

that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down

behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves

that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,

Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy

fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.


“Praise for this small light, for the match consumed, for the gathered illuminated.”

Check-In (20 minutes)

The goal with check-in is to avoid reports about all that has happened since the group last met. Instead of asking, “How is everyone doing?,” offer a more focused and spiritually-oriented question.  

Here are some recommendations: (choose one)

●      How is it with your spirit?

●      Share one thing that is “pulling at or draining your spirit” and one thing that is “feeding, filling or lifting up your spirit.”

●      What one thing do you need to let go of in order to be more fully present to our group?

●      What one thing do you need to invite in with you?

 Each participant takes a couple minutes (3 minutes tops*) to share. You can use the 3-minute sand-timers or your phone. The group listens quietly as each person shares rather than engaging in cross-talk. *If someone is going through a particularly difficult time, facilitators should offer time outside the session.  You may consider congregational connections (minister, pastoral team, chaplain).

DEEPEN - 1 hour

We now move into a time of deepening, an intentional time to explore questions of meaning and life, carving out time to deepen in relationships and grow.


Introduction to our Theme - 30 minutes 

In this session, we will explore praise and its place in our spiritual journeys and community.  If you explore poetry, you have likely encountered words of praise as this is a central act that artists engage in as they observe the world.  Praise songs are common to many religious traditions, and sacred texts are overflowing with words of praise- not only for deities, but also for the natural world, the experience of love, and the essential nature of being.  We invite you in this time to open your being to discover what might be praised around and within you. 


To begin our reflection and sharing on the theme, we have a few readings to prime the pump. Let’s read these aloud, each of us reading a few sentences or a paragraph.

Elizabeth Alexander: "Praise Song for the Day"

note: written for Barack Obama's first inauguration.  You may consider playing the clip in lieu of reading it. 

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other's

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.


All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.


Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.


Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.


A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.


We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.


We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what's on the other side.


I know there's something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.


Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.


Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.


Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?


Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.


In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,


praise song for walking forward in that light. 


Nature is the one song of praise that never stops singing.     ~ Richard Rohr


What is so powerful about the Psalms are, as well as being gospel songs of praise, they are also the blues.     ~ Bono


Gloria by Denise Levertov

Praise the wet snow

            falling early.

Praise the shadow

            my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof

even this gray October day that should, they say,

have been golden.


the invisible sun burning beyond

       the white cold sky, giving us

light and the chimney's shadow.


god or the gods, the unknown,

that which imagined us, which stays

our hand,

our murderous hand,

                                     and gives us


in the shadow of death,

               our daily life,

               and the dream still

of goodwill, of peace on earth.


flow and change, night and

the pulse of day.



We would worry less if we praised more.    ~ Harry Ironside


I wonder if you know how special you are.

I wonder if you know how precious you are.

I wonder if you know how lucky I am to have you in my life.

I love you so much.

 ~ Hassan Ali


In his well-known poem “If,” Rudyard Kipling states: “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting.…” I think he had the right of it, but what are we waiting for? It seems to me that as children we learn the word wait shortly after we learn the word no. We are told to “wait until after dinner,” to “wait until you’re older,” and to “wait until your father gets home.” 

I don’t like waiting. Waiting is a trap, a clear and present danger, when it becomes all that we do. When all we do is wait, we lose our focus on what’s important. We miss out on opportunities and there’s a chance that we’ll lose our friends, loved ones and our freedom. We miss out on life, love and happiness. 

I have been incarcerated for 16 years, and have endeavored to live my life according to axioms contained within Kipling’s poem “If,” including the following: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run….” 

I have filled every minute. I took off running and I haven’t looked back. I have earned a college degree, donated my time and talent, created works of art, made friends, and committed random acts of kindness. I changed and began to develop myself into the man I wish to become. 

What are you waiting for? I have decided not to wait. I will not wait for the future to saunter up and greet me. I will not wait for my hopes, dreams and prayers to fall into my lap. I will rise up each morning and praise the glory of the day. I shall stride forward with my head held high and with love in my heart. I shall give up my doubts and fears unto the hand of God. And with every breath and step I take I will live and make the world a better place. 

by Mark V., CLF prisoner member


Reflections on the Readings :

Read to the group:

Each member takes a turn sharing in response to the questions before any group discussion or reactions occur. Allow a moment of silence between each sharing. Responding to each other with silence can feel awkward, but makes room for the one speaking to hear themselves. The group then opens itself to a time of sharing reactions. But instead of responding to each other with “fixing, advising or saving,” we hold out gratitude for one thing that struck us in particular as we listened and hold up how it connected to our lives and helped us clarify something about our own situation.  

The conversation should move from one place to another in the circle, not getting dominated by one or two voices who speak at length.  As your facilitator, I will at times, if one member is sharing for longer than 3-4 minutes ask that you leave space.  Here is our covenant:  


In this space and time together we… 

~Listen deeply (we put away all distractions to hear one another, we work to quiet our response and make space for one another’s experience) 

~Bless one another with the counter-cultural act of praise and gratitude 

~Speak deeply (we share from our own perspective, using “I” statements, we speak from personal experience and aspire to stay in the room, in the moment) 

~Release a sense of outcome (we avoid fixing, advice giving or interruptions, we focus on the people in this circle) 

~Step up and step back (we are mindful of our sharing time to make space for others, we speak and contribute to the circle) 

~Allow everyone an opportunity to answer the question before sharing again 

~Empower our facilitator to call us back into covenant with love 

~Commit to the group (we will prioritize showing up and participate together in an act of service) 

~Seek growth in our time together 

~Uphold confidentiality (we share only our own story outside of this circle)



Choose a question from the options below inviting conversation. If one question seems to be boring or diminishing to the sharing, you may offer a different question from below (or your own question)


●      In the reading “Praise Song for the Day” Elizabeth Alexander makes note of the struggle and pain, yet she continues to offer praise.  When in your life have you given praise even as you experienced pain?

●      The excerpt from Mark V., CLF prisoner member, explains how he refuses to wait for his life and refuses to be delayed.  Have you ever experienced a hesitation to praise or even a fear of giving praise?  What’s at risk in praising the world?

●      Bono notes the connection between praise and the blues in the psalms, but we can also find this in poetry, visual arts, music, and dance.  What connects the two for you?  What has praise taught you?  What about the “blues” or pain?

●      How has praise shaped your life?

Going Deeper - 30 minutes


For this round, follow the same format as the first. Keep a watch on the time so that you have enough time for the Companioning section. (If you are running out of time, just skip this “Going Deeper” section.) 

Invite the group to read this piece aloud, each person reading a few sentences or a paragraph. 

Watch this video, which is a video of Hozier featuring Mavis Staples singing “Nina Cried Power”



Invite the group to share their feelings and thoughts to one of the following questions: 

●      One of the central lines in this song is, “it’s not the waking, it’s the rising.”  Considering praise, how does praise change how you act and live in the world?

●      Can you passively praise?  What does engaged praise mean in your life and in this community?

●      What’s the relationship between praise and power? 

●      It can be hard in a time of social injustice and global climate crisis, to feel the songs of praise stirring.  What does this song suggest about the rising?  What does it take to rise?

COMPANION 30 mins. (optional)


Companion is an intentional time of practice.  This is designed to help us take the sharing and insights and put them into a spiritual practice that hopefully we can each utilize outside of our time together. 


Spiritual Practice:

We are going to write a poem of praise together.  Look again at the following poem from Denise Levertov. 


Gloria by Denise Levertov

Praise the wet snow

            falling early.

Praise the shadow

            my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof

even this gray October day that should, they say,

have been golden.


the invisible sun burning beyond

       the white cold sky, giving us

light and the chimney's shadow.


god or the gods, the unknown,

that which imagined us, which stays

our hand,

our murderous hand,

                                     and gives us


in the shadow of death,

               our daily life,

               and the dream still

of goodwill, of peace on earth.


flow and change, night and

the pulse of day.

Poems of praise give descriptive notes of praise along with the impact of the praise.  Take a few moments and write your own praise poem using the following format.


Line1 : Praise for [inserts two adjectives and noun]

Line 2: That [verb] [impact of praise] 

Line 3 : Praise for [inserts two adjectives and noun]

Line 4: That [verb] [impact of praise] 

Line 5: Praise for [inserts two adjectives and noun]

Line 6: That [verb] [impact of praise] 

Line 7: Filled with [name what the object gives. For example, gratitude or awe]

Line 8: I/we cry out [exclamation] 

Line 9: Praise for [inserts two adjectives and noun]

Line 10: That [verb] [impact of praise]

Closing -10 minutes


In our covenant we promise to:

“Bless one another with the counter-cultural act of praise and gratitude Invite the group to each offer one person gratitude for a reflection that resonated with them.” 

Where have you found a blessing in what someone shared?  (Invite group to name one thing) 

For Next Time:

Write two more praise poems.  If you feel comfortable, share them with the group.


Closing Words 

There is, finally, only one thing required of us: that is, to take life whole, the sunlight and shadows together; to live the life that is given us with courage and humor and truth. 

We have such a little moment out of the vastness of time for all our wondering and loving. Therefore let there be no half-heartedness; rather, let the soul be ardent in its pain, in its yearning, in its praise. 

Then shall peace enfold our days, and glory shall not fade from our lives.

-Rev. Kendyl R. Gibbons


Extinguishing the Chalice “Brave Space” by Micky ScottBey Jones

Together we will create brave space

Because there is no such thing as a “safe space.”

We exist in the real world

We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.

In this space

We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,

We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,

We call each other to more truth and love,

We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.

We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.

We will not be perfect.

This space will not be perfect.

It will not always be what we wish it to be


It will be our brave space together,


We will work on it side by side.