Small-Group Session (2 of 2)
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 email@example.com 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 www.couragerenewal.org
CONNECT - 30 minutes or less
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 Time/ Ice Breaker: (10 minutes) (Optional. We recommend engaging in this connect time particularly if it is your first, second or third session together or whenever a new person joins your group.)
“Favorites” Facilitator invites answers to each of the following questions in turn. When all have shared, facilitator invites answers to the next question.
What is your favorite... ice cream flavor? ... type of music? ... winter activity? ... job you have ever had? ...age in life, so far?
Chalice Lighting (3 minutes)
As we light this chalice.
We are grateful for the warmth of Community,
The fire of Commitment.
And the light of Truth.
May these guide our time together today.
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.
In our first session on Giving Praise we reflected on praise as a spiritual practice. In this session, we consider the limits and liabilities of praise. As is the way of spiritual themes, “it’s complicated.”
To begin our reflection and sharing on the theme, we have a few readings to prime the pump. We will take turns reading these aloud. For long pieces, we can break them into parts for more than one voice.
The time will come
When, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome.
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine, Give bread, Give back your heart.
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you.
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf.
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~ Derek Walcott, adapted from LIFTING OUR VOICES, 124
The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. ~ Norman Vincent Peale
Undeserved praise causes more pangs of conscience later than undeserved blame, but probably only for the reason that our powers of judgment are more completely exposed by overpraise than by unjust underestimation.
~ Frederich Nietzche
Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues and powers are the characteristics of an excellent (hu)man.
~ Saskya Pandeta
Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself, and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is not part of it, for nothing is made better or worse by praise.
~ Marcus Aurelius
Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.
~ Robert Martin
I fear I have praised you too much too soon. Will I lose you in your shame of believing you can never be what I think you are.
~ Kate McGaha
I pay no attention to anyone’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.
Hidden in all stories
Is the One story.
The more we listen,
the clearer that story becomes.
Our true identity,
Who we are,
Why we are here,
What sustains us,
Is in this story.
~ Rachel Naomi Remen, adapted from LIFTING OUR VOICES
Reflections on the Readings :
First round, 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.
After all who wish have had their opportunity to speak in the first round, then the group then opens itself to a time of sharing reactions. 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)
● What has been the “underbelly” of praise in your own life?
● What is your relationship with praise?
● How do you feel when you are praised? How do you feel when you do not receive praise?
● Who and when and how do you offer praise to others?
● What values underlay your need for praise and/or your discomfort with it?
Going Deeper - 30 minutes (optional)
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, in parts.
“I Come Not to Praise King”
I have come not to praise King, but to criticize him.I have come to the agonizing conclusion that to justly honor King at this time and to place him in our history and advance the goal for which he joyously lived and courageously died, we must pinpoint the real defects in his thought.
Why this bewildering way of praising King? The most important reason is the ideological abuse of King’s deeds and doctrine by those who want to negate his dream. To be truthful, we would have to admit that King has become, as it were, the black messiah, the singular and exclusive pattern, not only for blacks in America to imitate but also for other liberation movements throughout the world. Black leaders are indexed as militant or violent, not on the basis of their actual thoughts and deeds, but by virtue of how far they strayed from King’s footsteps.
I have a nagging suspicion that white America desires to perpetuate a black hero who fits its special needs oppression and not those of black liberation. White adoration of King secures him more as a guardian of white interest than as a black Moses to lead his people to freedom.
How then should we praise this black hero? Difficult though it may be, we must finally be able to say in the words of one of his colleagues, “We’ve never buried Dr. King, and we won’t be able to do anything until we do.” His dream will only become a reality, it appears, when black and white Americans can say--and with conviction--”King is dead, long live the King.” His life and thought must be acknowledged as giant steps in the march to black freedom. But we dishonor him if we think his way is the only path that we who aim to be free must follow. We shall not overcome if we march only to his beat as the distant drummer and ignore the stout cadence of others in the army of black thought and action.
~ William R. Jones from BEEN IN THE STORM SO LONG
Invite the group to share their feelings and thoughts to one or more of the following questions:
● Where are you in this reading?
● What is your own relationship to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his drumbeat? What other “stout cadences of others in the black army of thought and action” are you marching to?
● How does praise deny Dr. King’s legacy?
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.
Take five minutes and consider quietly something that you have felt unable to criticize. Perhaps, it is something that can only be praised in the culture of a certain place. Then, write a letter of lament or truth about this place or object.
Closing -10 minutes
In our covenant we promise to:
“Bless one another with the counter-cultural act of praise and gratitude.”
Where have you found a blessing in what someone shared?
Invite each person to name one thing new understanding or question for reflection that they are taking with them, and thank the person or synergy of the group that brought this to them.
For Next Time:
At our next gathering on _________(date/time/place) we will take up our December theme, “The Unexpected.” Expect to see you then!
Choose to Bless the World, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker
Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind's power,
the strength of the hands,
the reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door,
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will,
a moving forward into the world
with the intention to do good.
It is an act of recognition,
a confession of surprise,
a grateful acknowledgment
that in the midst of a broken world
unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.
There is an embrace of kindness
that encompasses all life, even yours.
And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
there moves a holy disturbance,
a benevolent rage,
a revolutionary love,
protesting, urging, insisting
that which is sacred will not be defiled.
Those who bless the world live their life
as a gesture of thanks
for this beauty
and this rage.
The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
to search for the sources
of power and grace;
native wisdom, healing, and liberation.
More, the choice will draw you into community,
the endeavor shared,
the heritage passed on,
the companionship of struggle,
the importance of keeping faith,
the life of ritual and praise,
the comfort of human friendship,
the company of earth
the chorus of life welcoming you.
None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility, waiting.
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.