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:

Spirit of Life

Whose breath inhabits our bodies just as it did the ancestors

Make us ever mindful

That for beauty or pain

We are bound ever closely to these ancestors…

The ones known, and obscured

The ones cherished and the ones rejected


We are never only ourselves.


Brief Check-In

Invite each person, in turn, to share a brief answer to the check-in question.  The check-in question is: “How are you doing, this day, and since we last met?”

 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)


Focusing Questions

After everyone has read the different statements, the leader asks the central questions that will guide the session’s discussion: “How do you understand the word ancestor in your own life?  Do you have people you call your ancestors?  Who are they?”  


First Round

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.


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


From the murmurings in the wind to the quiet stillness that yet speaks

We embrace the wisdom of the ancestors

Their failures, their hopes.

Their dreams and dying embers

Gift to us lives of passion, commitment and purpose.

Quotes for The Common Bowl

“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves...We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love, and die.” 
― Alice Walker


“Breathing in, I see all my ancestors in me: my mineral ancestors, plant ancestors, mammal ancestors, and human ancestors. My ancestors are always present, alive in every cell of my body, and I play a part in their immortality.” 
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Living

“When we listen to those stories, not only are we hearing tales of days gone by, we are also hearing the voices of all of those who lived before us. Those ancestors are not gone from our lives. They live in the stories, and they linger in our environments. They come to us in dreams and during ceremonies. They whisper to us in quiet moments and bring us comfort. One of my favorite stories is about a friend's experience with the ancestors. She was doing repatriation work, which involves caring for the remains of an ancestor until they can be properly buried with their people. In this instance, the ancestor that she was caring for had been part of a gruesome display in a museum. During her time with him, she remained in prayer when he came to her and gave her a message. First, he thanked her for bringing him back home. Then, he told her, "we dreamed you into the future." Our ancestors lived for us; they died for us; and they dreamed for us. Through their collective imaginings, we were all brought into being. What an incredible honor it is for us to carry their life forward through our own.” 
― Sherri Mitchell, Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based Change


“I write to keep in contact with our ancestors and to spread truth to people.” 
― Sonia Sanchez


“One could only wish there were more who understood the love of family, of history, and of ancient, sacred bonds that grow deep within us all. If family is not worthy of our time and attention, who or what is?” 
― Laurence Overmire, One Immigrant's Legacy: The Overmyer Family in America, 1751-2009: A Biographical Record of Revolutionary War Veteran Capt. John George Overmire and His Descendants


“Souls never die, but always on quitting one abode pass to another. All things change, nothing perishes. The soul passes hither and thither, occupying now this body, now that . . . As a wax is stamped with certain figures, then melted, then stamped anew with others, yet it is always the same wax. So, the Soul being always the same, yet wears at different times different forms.” 
― Pythagoras


“We cannot shake off three hundred years of fear 
in three hours.” 
― Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices


“All pre-Abrahamic cultures understood the tremendous importance of remaining closely connected to the past if the present was to be invested with any spiritually significant meaning. They also understood that the most personally relevant and accessible portal to the empowering wisdom and goodness of the past was through their own direct ancestors, those who shared their particular bloodline and DNA. It was for this reason that all traditional cultures engaged in what is often called ancestor worship (pitri-puja). There is no pre-Abrahamic culture on Earth that did not honor its ancestors in one form or another. This is a very important spiritual practice and tradition that used to be practiced universally by families in the ancient past. The process of ancestor worship now needs to be revived in the modern world if we are to not lose our sacred connection with our own cultural-spiritual heritage. Ancestor worship must become a regular practice again.” 
― Dharma Pravartaka Acharya