Spiritual Formation Program Groups
By Margery Larrabee
In the Spiritual Formation Program, there are two group work activities. One is the reading group in which participants come together once a month to discuss mutually agreed upon literature they have read in advance. They share their responses to the reading lectio divinia style, or in some way that reflects what meaning the literature has for living out their spirituality.
The second group is a friendship and accountability group which is an opportunity to examine our spiritual journey, both shadow and substance. Each person seeks to grow deeper and stronger in their relationship to the Divine, in themselves, in others, both individually and corporately. We help each other in the formation of our spirituality.
II. Guidelines for the Friendship Accountability Group
Such a group is not a social gathering although it offers sociability; it is not therapy, although it may be therapeutic; it is not a discussion group, although it may have discussion. The focus is on spiritual intimacy, sharing soul to soul with each other. And we are held accountable to ourselves and to the Divine for the ways we have lived out our shadow (that which keeps us from God) and our substance (that which connects us with God). This is done gradually as the group builds community by means of a suggested format and ways of working.
(Whereas the reading group may include the entire larger regional group, for friendship and accountability, the larger group is usually divided into several smaller groups. Variations on group size are made depending on the needs and numbers of persons. In some groups, some individuals also meet in pairs or have phone time together. Format often includes the following: (It’s important to create your own.)
- Socialization, perhaps over a meal.
- A facilitator is selected to guide the group process (see facilitation below).
- A suggested group process is reviewed or revised:
- Settling into a worshipful silence.
- Participants take turns speaking out of the silence, either randomly or by some planned sequence. (Often a planned sequence facilitates the rhythm of the sharing and the inclusion of helpful pauses);
- Each person asks for what they need: a hand held, sitting close, rapt attention, questions to deepen throughout or at the end of their sharing, other? Sometimes at the end of their time, the focus person will share about how the experience was…
- A brief time is taken for questions of clarity followed by a pause and then questions for deepening.
- Time is taken for whatever additional work the group has decided on (see content below).
- Logistics and plans are considered.
- Closing Worship
Facilitation by the group can be invisible. But having one person in the role of facilitator can help the individual and the group to keep their focus. Facilitation helps provide a clear beginning and ending as well, as someone is attentive to both chronos and kairos time for guiding the group process. Having a facilitator does not keep each group member from being mindful and responsible. The group may choose to rotate the facilitator or not. The facilitator or elder sees that the notification of the meetings is done.
- Attend as prepared persons, realizing that the better we prepare ourselves with journaling, prayer, and reflection on a daily and weekly basis, the more we are likely to benefit from the course. Also, we are likely to be clearer about what we want to bring to the group.
- Realize the value of exploring inwardly and the paradox that even though it can be fearful to reveal ourselves, it can be out of that revealing that we can take a step toward healing and knowing how loveable we are at the core.
- Agree to confidentiality and asking for permission for anything one might want to share outside the group.
- Being ready to practice listening, waiting-listening in which we wait for whatever is ready to be revealed in the person. We give encouragement to the person by our loving attention, our prayerful thoughts, our acceptance and understanding without judgment. We are open and receptive to varied language that expresses a person’s spiritual exploration.
- Speak from our own experience, knowing that it is often the sharing of our hurt, weakness, and pain as well as our strengths, joys and what went well that binds us together and assists real communication.
- Commit to regular participation in the spiritual adventure, understanding its purpose and direction as well as the importance of seeing through the lens of love.
E. Process and Content for Group Sharing
- Generic Questions
At the beginning, generic questions may guide the sharing time to provide a framework for an individual’s spiritual experience. At the start, as the group builds community, questions might be:
What has your spiritual experience been so far?
How are you experiencing God in your life now?
(Such questions are foundational)
More than one meeting session might be taken for this kind of exploration and connection.
Although as the program develops the emphasis is on working with our disciplines, other related areas of spiritual life become significant to address such as our gifts, service, discernment, prayer, forgiveness…
- Discipline Questions
Early in the process, each person is encouraged to explore what needful discipline has come to them, and then in subsequent meetings to address the full implications and outcomes of being faithful to that discipline, as well as how their discipline has helped them stay connected to God. Some questions for reference might be:
What has made me aware of my need for discipline(s)?
What discipline has suggested it to me? Why does it seem particularly fitting?
In what ways does my discipline(s) help me keep connected to that of god within?
In what ways does it help me counter any obstacles or interferences with my relationship to the Inner Light?
How am I mindful of God in my struggles?
What is the place of prayer in my journey with finding and using a discipline?
- Clarifying Questions
Following an individual’s sharing, there may be a time for clarifying questions… Such questions would be brief and simply assist group members to have a clear sense of what was expressed by the individual. Questions might be in the genre of:
Were you alone or in a group?
Did that happen in one place or different places?
Can you fill the gap…?
- Deepening Questions
After the clarifying questions and a pause to wait for a time in the silence, there comes a time for deepening questions, questions that will assist the individual in going deeper. Some examples follow that would need to be shaped to fit the particular experiences that were shared.
Can you say more about that?
Was something else going on?
What was behind the story?
Have you ever thought that?
Where is God in this?
Was that ego or soul directed?
What other inspiration have you had since?
Has prayer been helpful?
- Commentary on Questions
The questions are not for the benefit of the questioner. The questions are not for problem solving. The questions are not for opening up a discussion. The questions are for no other purpose than to assist the speaker to go deeper, further, to explore more inwardly, to connect with the inner resource. (These questions are only illustrative and descriptive. Questions are helpful only as relevant to the person sharing. The Spirit leads…).
This is the one wonderful way to call forth that which is within both shadow and substance. It is an extraordinary gift to give one another.
Such questions are often most helpful when asked at some point during the individual’s turn. Sometimes a person may ask for feedback on their sharing turn:
Responses to such a request can quickly become judgmental (you really should have…). Though there is not formulaic response, further deepening questions might be: What prompts your request? Is there anything you are hoping to hear? etc.
Sometimes a group member might offer to share a relevant experience. But responding to the request for feedback is a matter of sensitivity and discernment that can come with learning about each other.
F. After Sharing
After the sharing time, members might:
- Suggest a query to be explored before the next meeting.
- Offer a reading that has been particularly meaningful.
- Tell how they would like to be prayed for.
- Ask for prayer for someone outside the group.
- Suggest other creative, spirit-led ideas.
- Affirm/bless each other.
- A closing circle which might include any of the suggestions above or be a time of worshipful silence.
- Logistics and other considerations