On a glorious weekend in October, the Spiritual Formation Collaborative hosted a workshop/retreat at Pendle Hill with a focus on becoming Spiritual Companions. We had four leaders: Nadine Hoover, Joann Neuroth, Cassie Cammann and Barbara LaSage, who volunteered their time, experience and Spirit to lead us closer to the Quaker way of being in the world.
Twenty of us gathered Friday evening after a scrumptious Pendle Hill dinner to introduce each other and learn names. We practiced by introducing the person next to us and then memorizing the names of those in the circle, challenging but fun and friendly. Then we were asked to draw a picture of our core selves Art is not my gift and I was not enthused. But the creation turned out to be invaluable because it let me imagine my centered, spiritual self and draw a colorful, if vague, depiction of that. Our pictures were then posted in a group on the wall to symbolize bringing our core selves together. Later, I hung it near my desk at home so I can easily recall the life of my spiritual center.
After worship on Saturday, we learned about being Spiritual Companions, a unique kind of companioning, different from spiritual friendships as the emphasis is on Spirit. In groups of three, we took turns as the focus speaker, the other two being silent listeners. In that sacred space, the listener is to hold the speaker with Love and NOT think about questions to ask or judgements to make. The facilitators offered us a guideline for our listening work: “Listen from the heart; stay relaxed and non-anxious in your core self and the Spirit in you.” The speaker is encouraged to talk about his/her feeling of the presence of Spirit in his/her life, addressing God not the listener. We were not storytelling which is our usual approach; we were articulating our experience of Presence. In these situations, I usually attend to formulating evoking questions when listening, so this change was a gift to me, listening and being listened to while centered in the Loving Presence. Nadine summed up our goal for our renewed Spiritual life: “Our practice is to notice the vibrancy of the Living Spirit anew in every moment and to live in the joy of being alive.”
Whenever we gathered in small groups, we were also given queries to discuss. The most significant one for me was “What do I need to have or let go of in order to be aware, available and prepared to respond to Spirit in my daily life?” Isn’t that the most essential and important question? But no one had ever asked me before, and I had not asked myself. I thought about all the little stresses and worries that occupy my brain and divert me from awareness of the presence of Spirit. They shrank to almost nothing in significance. It was truly liberating.
When the speaker is finished, the listeners take time to give feedback. The first step is to tell the speaker what you have heard him/her say. That helps the speaker feel heard and sometimes reveals things the speaker didn’t realize were said, much as in vocal ministry that is difficult to recall because it comes from Spirit. The second step is to determine if and when the listener felt Spirit in the speaking. That discernment requires careful attention to Spirit and lots of practice, which we, unfortunately, did not have time to do. We were encouraged to practice this step as we meet with our Companions Group. The next step is to keep a careful journal accounting of our Experiment with Spirit whenever we experience it, recording discernment, feedback, insights and practices. The next time our Companion Group meets, we can then share that progress.
The facilitators recommended finding one or two people to be consistent spiritual companions and meeting together every two or three weeks for sharing. The team of facilitators also offer a formal practice session every four months, the next one being in January. These are free of charge and open to anyone who is doing this work.
The leader, Nadine Hoover, wrote a small book called “Walking in the World as a Friend” (available at CourageousGifts.com) and produced some videos to accompany it (available at Conscience Studio’s YouTube channel). They helped me continue my learning and seek an answer to my chosen query. If you want to try this form of companioning, I highly recommend that you check out all these resources before you begin.
The weekend was life-changing for me. Since then, I spend more of my time feeling centered and aware of Presence, less of it in a state of worry or stress. I will always be grateful to the facilitators to brought us all closer to walking every day in every moment with Spirit.
Additional thanks go to Wade Wright, who led us in singing on Saturday night, and to Jim Whitmoyer who gave us two relaxing sessions of Tai Chi, to Pendle Hill staff for the excellent food and accommodations, to the members of the Spiritual Formation Collaborative for pulling this all together and to the wonderful participants who opened hearts and minds to each other.