Planning Spiritual Deepening Sessions
For years, Friends, attenders, and seekers have voiced a hunger for deep spiritual relationships, improved sense of faith community, and a better understanding of Quaker faith and spiritual practices. The Spiritual Deepening Library developed as a Spirit-led response to this longing. The resources on this page will guide you in creating a deep, meaningful, and transformative experience as you use the materials in the Library.
The Spiritual Deepening Program grew out of a desire for connection with each other and That Which Is Eternal. The Spiritual Deepening Program is not just a library of resources, it is a process of Grounding, Practicing, and Sharing together in order to listen, share, learn, grow, and deepen. The library contents support this process.
As a small group leader, you will be planning sessions that balance these three processes in order to offer a rich and deep experience for your participants.
Grounding exercises invite us to explore our Quaker roots. The materials in the Grounding sections include an introductory essay written by a contemporary Friend and quotations, songs, scripture, and videos reflecting Quaker thought from the beginning to today.
By interacting with the Grounding materials, small group participants explore the transformative experiences of past and contemporary Friends and gain insight into the context of Quaker practices and beliefs.
In the Practicing exercises, participants are invited to try out new ways of connecting to Spirit, both as individuals and in community. Practicing activities encourage us to seek the “still, small voice” of the Inward Teacher and to live out our testimonies in our lives and in the world. As our individual lives are transformed by our spiritual practices, we grow as open, engaged, and enriched communities.
Sharing activities are experiential opportunities to listen without judgment and to put into words that which we know deeply. Listening deeply is especially important when it’s difficult, when others use language different from our own, or when we struggle to hear the Truth manifesting in others. Perhaps we’ve stopped sharing our spiritual stories because we struggled in trying to translate our words into a language that works for everyone. The Sharing exercises in the Spiritual Deepening Library invite us to practice listening and sharing in a space of trust and openness. Imagine what might be possible!
Below are some suggestions for exploring the introductory essays, texts, and videos in the Grounding section of each topic. Be creative and consider using different processing techniques over time in order to spark the various learning styles of your participants: discussion, personal reflection, artistic expression, music, worship sharing, creative writing, and deep listening.
Friendly Bible Study
The Friendly Bible Study process applies to Scripture as well as other materials. This process is good for a group of newcomers and old timers, allowing participants to speak about what is exciting and what is problematic about the text.
Find the Truth
Choose one idea or sentence that rings true for you. Share with a partner an experience you have had that relates to that sentence/idea.
What Do You Notice?
Shorter variations might be: What one phrase or idea sticks out for you? Sit with it for a few minutes and see what rises for you. Now journal/share with a partner.
Draw or doodle in response to this text. Allow yourself to be Spirit led – what color do you want to pick up, and how do you want to use it? This is not art for to view. This is exploration and expression. Alternatively, invite participants to make a visual or 3D response to the text using art materials such as clay or play dough, magazines for collage, paint, mural paper, pipe cleaners, objects from nature (acorns, feathers, grasses, flowers, seeds, bark), or building blocks or Legos.
Visit the Text in Worship
Sit in worship with this material. Let it work on you. Try not to “think” about it – just let it sit on your lap and soak in. Now, turn to your partner and share something about your visit with this text.
Write your reaction to the text, how it applies to your life today, what you’re grappling with, or what you’re grateful for. Use one of the General Questions for Reflection or free-write. In general, journal writing is kept confidential.
Set it to Music
If you have a group that is willing to be creative, break into small groups and ask each group to write a tune for the quotation or an excerpt (or assign a different quotation to each group). Tunes are a great way to “memorize” quotations so that they will stick with you. Check out Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong for some beautiful examples.
Share a quotation, introductory essay, QuakerSpeak video link, or set of quotations with group participants. In preparation for the next Spiritual Deepening group session, give the participants some “homework” to do. This could include:
- reflecting on the text during their daily spiritual practice or during Meeting for Worship
- journaling about their response to the text
- rewriting the message in their own words
- writing a prayer about the topic
- finding a song, object, or image that represents to them the theme of the message
- creating a piece of art that illustrates their response
As part of your next group sessions, invite participants to share or report back on their homework assignment.
Settle into worship and invite participants to speak into the silence and share their thoughts about a query. Craft a query directly related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection. A more detailed description of worship sharing can be found here.
Treat the quotation as a holy text and pay attention to how it speaks to you. Learn more about the Lectio Divina process.
Ask a question that will elicit one-word answers or short phrases. On a flipchart paper, record the responses as participants share. Consider questions such as: What word stands out to me in this text? What feelings arise in my body as I consider this message? What question do I want to ask Spirit about this message? Invite participants to comment on what they notice about the brainstorm list.
Invite participants to briefly contemplate the quotation and then respond to a writing prompt. Create a prompt specifically related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection.
Pair-Share or Triads
Divide the group into pairs or sets of three to discuss the quotation. Return to a large group and share any themes that arose.
Ask a question directly related to the text or choose one of the General Questions for Reflection.
Make it Personal
Rewrite the quote in your own words or to reflect contemporary society and language.
- How is the Divine/Truth/Love speaking to me through this text?
- What experience in my life reflects the message of this text?
- What do I have to learn from this message?
- What resonates with me in this quotation?
- What stands out to me in this text?
- What surprised me about this message?
- What questions arise about my life as I contemplate this message?
- What canst thou say? (What do I have to say in response to this message?)
- What feelings arise in my body as I consider this message?
- An image that comes to mind as I listen to this quotation is…
- Where is the growing edge for me around this issue?
- If I could rephrase this message in my own words, I would say…
- This Truth tastes like… (smells like… sounds like… feels like… looks like….)
- In relation to this topic, I used to be.…., but now I’m ……
- I’d like to ask Spirit / the Universe / God / the Inward Teacher ……. about this message.
- The point on my spiritual journey when this idea has been most alive in me was…
Your role as the small group leader will be to look through the Spiritual Deepening library exercises for each topic and to choose the activities that best fit the preferences, growing edges, learning styles, and desires of the participants in your group.
It’s okay to choose exercises that challenge your participants by asking them to stretch and be vulnerable. Your role is to facilitate and encourage spiritual deepening, and this often calls us to try something new, be that writing or art or personal sharing, in order to grow.
Video: Prioritizing Learning or Enjoyment in Facilitation (2 minutes)
Keep in mind that there are no wrong choices – even if an exercise flops, it can create an opening for learning and sharing – and you don’t have to have all of the answers to lead a powerful program.
Video: The power of saying "I don't know" as a facilitator (2 minutes)
A 60-90 minute session will follow a general pattern:
Welcome, introductions, and check-ins. If necessary, review the shared agreements about group process and confidentiality. This is especially important for the incorporation and orientation of new folks into groups with fluid membership.
Grounding, Practicing, or Sharing Exercise. There may be time to explore 2-3 activities in one session, but take care not to overschedule your time. Allow space for the movement of Spirit.
Worship and announcements, including any “homework” for the next session.
These ideas are offered as suggested guidelines. As your group continues to meet and spiritual friendships deepen, you may feel drawn to other formats for your meetings or other ways of doing things. Some groups may choose to add hymn singing to their time together, while others might choose to worship-in-motion on a nature walk. Keep in mind the desires, talents, needs, and preferences of your participants as you structure your time together.
One key goal of the first Spiritual Deepening session is to create an opportunity for the whole group to develop a shared sense of purpose, which for most groups is to journey toward spiritual growth with each other. It may be helpful to begin your Spiritual Deepening time together by talking about each person’s experience of the Divine and the language used to talk about it.
It is helpful for everyone to understand the basic assumptions of the group from the outset. Anything shared in the group remains confidential. The group is there to support and encourage, not to judge or advise, no matter how well intentioned this may feel. The first session offers an opportunity to begin building this culture of trust and respect.
The first session is also a time for you, as the small group leader, to ask your participants about their preferences for which topics to explore.
As your time together as a group comes to an end, consider planning a session that invites your Spiritual Deepening participants to reflect upon the small group experience, share gratitude with each other, and offer continued support as they move along their spiritual paths. The Culminating Celebration activity offers a suggested agenda for a 2-3 hour closing session.