Spiritual Language, Spiritual Metaphor
This exercise invites participants to share “wow” moments and better understand each other’s spiritual experiences.
This activity focuses on coming to understand better the spiritual language that you might hear as you share your spiritual journeys.
Materials and Setup
Materials & Setup:
Flipchart or notepad.
Background: From the beginning, Friends have focused on the personal experience of the Spirit, rather than on doctrine. As a result, Friends’ use of spiritual language has diverged very widely, as new generations of Quakers seek to describe their inner experience. In your Spiritual Deepening groups and in your meeting, you will frequently need to ‘translate’ from the language the speaker uses to the language that you use to describe your experience of God, Spirit, or The Light. This activity focuses on coming to understand better the spiritual language that you might hear as you share your spiritual journeys.
Begin by settling into centering worship.
Share: Our discussion today is going to focus on those “wow” moments when we encounter That Which is Eternal in our lives.
Contemporary Friend Phil Fitz writes, As I climbed Mt. Mansfield, arrived at the top, and marveled at the view, I noticed in my reaction an intellectual component (how far could I see, where was the river, etc.) and an emotional component (feeling so at home in Vermont and loving it as my state), but deeper than that was a sense of my little self dropping away, and an amazing oneness among everyone and everything – a sense of an energy that rose up through it all, something that was inside me but not me, with a lot of metaphors trying to describe that deep feeling. It was an obvious experience of the something that I call God, but others call by other names.
Then I talked about a friend of mine who sings difficult choral music in a very skilled group. She talked about how singing was mostly an effort to try to sing the right words, in the right length notes, with the four voice groups entering at the right moments and blending in harmony. But once in a while, after they knew the music well, they’d be in a performance and it was a wow moment – the individuals disappeared, and everything was one, joined together, the music singing itself through them. And even though I don’t sing, I could definitely understand her wow moment as coming from the same place as my wow moment.
[Note to facilitators: You may spend some time thinking of your own “wow” story to share with the group at this point, as an opportunity to model the openness and depth of sharing that you’d like your participants to experience together.]
Share with your group that these wow moments are common, although they may be quite different for different people. For example, for some people a “wow” moment is experienced during the birth of a child, for others it may come while being present with a dying person, and others may recognize the “wow” during meeting for worship.
Ask: Have you experienced a “wow moment”, when you have gone below your own thoughts and feelings to a “something” that connects you to everything? What was your wow moment?
Divide into pairs and invite participants to spend about 10 minutes talking about their “wow” experiences.
Come back together as a large group and ask each person to think of a short phrase that could serve as a “handle” to describe their memory of their own wow experience. Emphasize not to say sentences or paragraphs – just their phrase/handle. (If needed, share a few examples from other Spiritual Deepening participants: Deep listening; Birch trees; human sea of solidarity; the beating heart of the universe; small miracles; wind filling sails)
Record the phrases on flipchart or piece of paper and after everyone has shared, read the list out loud so that everyone has the opportunity to hear their own words from someone else’s voice (a powerful experience in itself!).
Share that when we think about the place that the experience came from, the “something” that connects us to “everything,” some people call this “God,” but everyone had to find their own metaphors/names for God. What is your own natural spiritual language and metaphor for the “something”?
Sit in silence for a few minutes, and then encourage each person to speak his or her own metaphor/name for God.
(You may choose to share some examples from your own life or these metaphors from other Spiritual Deepening groups: “A little nudge here, a big nudge there, like a sheep dog, back and forth into the direction God wanted me to go.” or “One of my metaphors to describe my relationship with God is that I am an iron filing, God is a magnet.”)
Again, record the metaphors on flipchart or paper, then read them back at the end.
Remind Friends that in our time together in this Spiritual Deepening group and in our meeting, we will frequently need to ‘translate’ from the language the speaker uses to the language that you use to describe your experience of God, Spirit, or that “something.” Our ability to go deeper together requires that we move beyond differences in language or metaphor in order to connect at the level of “wow.”
Discuss: Have you had experiences of being able to translate spiritual language – that is, someone spoke in a language that was not your natural one, and you were able to “hear where the words come from”?
Close with reading There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets by Kenneth Boulding out loud.
Can I, imprisoned, body-bound, touch
The starry garment of the Oversoul,
Reach from my tiny part to the great Whole,
And spread my Little to the Infinite Much,
When Truth forever slips from out my clutch,
And what I take indeed, I do but dole
In cupfuls from a rimless ocean-bowl
That holds a million million million such?
And Yet, some Thing that moves among the stars,
And holds the cosmos in a web of law,
Moves too in me: a hunger, a quick thaw
Of soul that melts the ancient bars,
As I, a member of creation, sing
The burning one-ness binding everything.
Credits: Philip Fitz (NEYM), Exercise Author There is a Spirit: The Nayler Sonnets, copyright Kenneth E. Boulding. Excerpted from Pendle Hill Pamphlet #337 (1998). Used by permission of Pendle Hill Publications.