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Graff-Colors-layers_LRAfter a hiatus of a few years, I’m finally getting around to finishing my small group ministry project. With this entry I’ve finally completed the set of small group ministry session plans based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com. And it’s only fitting that this last session includes a bit of a celebration. So, rather than having group members wait until after the excerpt for the topic is read to hear the question for the day, members should be asked ahead of time “to come prepared to talk about a vivid experience of being fully aroused by life.” They should “also…bring a special goblet, glass, or mug to the gathering.” Why? You’ll have to read the session to find out. I should add that this will be my final entry for Phil’s Little Blog on the Prairie. It’s been a great a fantastic seven years or so at this URL and probably another three years at the previous one (which is no longer accessible…probably some of my best stuff was there, eh?). At any rate, I plan on showing up elsewhere in the interdependent web, and I’m make sure to post an update of where that is when I get there. In the meantime, let’s raise a virtual glass “to life!”

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

— Howard Thurman

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Topic:

An Excerpt from To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking by Harold Kushner

In this primer, Harold Kushner explores Jewish traditions and practices. A key one is to be live life to its fullest, which we call the spiritual practice of zeal.

To life — these two words represent so much of what Judaism is about. They suggest first that Judaism is about how to live, not just what to believe. They convey an optimistic attitude toward life, investing our energy in living rather than in worrying about dying, asking us to enjoy the pleasures of this life rather than noticing all the things that are wrong with it, emphasizing life in this world rather than pinning our hopes on finding satisfaction in some world to come. As the traditional Jewish toast over a glass of wine, To Life conveys a sense of exuberance, a readiness to enjoy the pleasures of this world. It removes from wine, and from other pleasures, that taint of sin and self-indulgence, and invites us to look at all that God has created and find it good. The sages teach us that ‘in time to come, everyone will have to account for all the good things God created which he refused to enjoy.’

Does any other people celebrate the special moments of life, the births and birthdays and weddings, with as much food, as much laughter and as many tears as Jews do?”

Activity: Plan a “Toast to Life” celebration for your group. Have each person come prepared to talk about a vivid experience of being fully aroused by life. Also have each person bring a special goblet, glass, or mug to the gathering. Gather in a circle, bless your goblets, and fill them with celebratory liquids. After each person shares his or her story, all raise your glasses and toast “to Life!”

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Closing Words:

You feel your own life — your heart, your mind, your body, your sexuality, the people and things you are connected to — and you spontaneously fill with the exclamation: “God, it feels great to be alive!” That’s delight.

— Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing

To Practice This Thought: Start your day with the affirmation ‘I am vibrantly alive!’ Say it enough times so that it sinks into your consciousness and seeps into your body. Whenever your energy feels depleted during the day, repeat the affirmation. In the last hours of the evening, let your ‘I am vibrantly alive’ extend outward to support others through your prayers.

Group Session Plan based on resources on Zeal from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Zeal. For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

Seems like one of the most popular episodes of Ally McBeal was “Theme of Life,” the one where her therapist (played by Tracey Ullman) tells Ally that she you, self esteem, low self-esteem, Grandiosityneeds a theme song. I mean I never really watched the show, yet I knew about that episode. I mention it because the teaching story for this week’s small group ministry session on the spiritual practice of You (based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com) gives the same advice. In the story, a woman tells the author that her father gave her a theme song when she was born. It’s a lovely idea, one that sounds a little classier coming from a book by a poet and philosopher rather than a television show. No matter where it comes from, the notion of having a theme that you live by makes sense. And if you can set that theme to music, all the better!

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Follow the grain in your own wood.
— Howard Thurman quoted in To Love and Be Loved by Sam Keen

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Topic:

A Teaching Story from Generous Strangers and Other Moments from My Life by John Skoyles

Poet and philosopher John Skoyles finds examples of the sacred in his everyday experiences — such as this encounter with a woman in a hospital:

At one point, she asked, “Do you have a theme song?”

“A theme song?” I asked.

“A song that followed you or that someone gave to you. Did you give your son a song when he was born?”

I hadn’t, but I told her that the radio was playing in the hospital room when Harry was born, and I recalled that as he was being delivered, Shirley Bassey was singing “Goldfinger” from the James Bond movie.

“When I was born,” she said, “my father said my theme song would be ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ Do you know that one?”

“Yes, that’s a good one.”

“It is,” she said, “but that’s just what I’ve gone and done.”

And I guess she had. I had never met anyone like her.

Questions: What is your theme song? How does it resonate with your soul?

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Closing Words:

O God, help me to believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is!
— Macrina Wiederkehr quoted in A Grateful Heart edited by M. J. Ryan

To Practice This Thought: Identify one beautiful truth about yourself.

Group Session Plan based on resources on You from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: You.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

In preparation for writing the introduction to the spiritual practice of Yearning, this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com, I decided to do a search for what appears to be a nonexistent word: the opposite of nostalgia. You see, if nostalgia is, as the longing, wish, desire, need, burning, urge, yen, pining, hunger, hungering, inclination, eagerness, hankeringdictionary says, “A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations,” then Yearning seems to me to be something that points in the other direction, a longing for some unknown future with those same personal associations with happiness. Anyway, there’s no word for that feeling, but I’ve experienced, as we all have. It’s a bittersweet feeling when we acknowledge that things could be better, but we’re not sure what it would take to make them that way. Or perhaps it’s more of a feeling that we have all we need to be happy, but we know that it will never last. I’m guessing that the religious concept of eternity grew out of the simultaneous sense of yearning for something more and never wanting to lose it. At any rate, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat suggest that the music of Bruce Springsteen often captures that Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska, My Father's Housesense of longing. When I read that, I was reminded of Springsteen’s album Nebraska, which I pretty much wore out with repeated listenings back in the early 80s. Not only for the lyrics and the stories they tell, but for the overall sound of the album—just Springsteen on the guitar punctuated with a mournful harmonica. One song in particular, however, really captures that sense of Yearning for me. If you can track down “My Father’s House,” it’s worth a listen.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

Our longing is an echo of the divine longing for us. Our longing is the living imprint of divine desire.
— John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes

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Topic:

An Excerpt from Words of Common Sense for Mind, Body and Soul by Brother David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast salutes proverbs as cross-cultural wisdom that appeals to our common sense. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of yearning.

Jesus, if he came back today, might look bewildered at what has become of the movement that he started. Would he recognize it at all? Would he think it has much to do with the message he preached? I think he would feel more at home in a twelve-step meeting than in most churches, let alone in the Vatican. . . . Twelve-step programs rely on no other authority than common sense. Jesus would recognize his spirit alive and active today as soon as he walked into a twelve-step meeting. This should not surprise us, since the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were fervent Christians. And there is an even deeper connection between sobriety and common sense. Don’t we call people who use common sense ‘sober minded’? What then is the addiction that makes most of us, again and again, fall off the wagon of common sense? It must be an enormously strong addiction to draw so many into its spell.

What is it that attracts us with such power? For many years I was searching for an answer to this question. What is the desire that draws us away from common sense? Gradually, the answer dawned on me: It is our longing to belong. But does not this deep desire in the human heart aim precisely at that all-embracing communion from which common sense springs? Isn’t our homesickness a desire for the cosmic household of which common sense is the family spirit? Indeed it is. But we fail to go all the way. We settle too soon, settle for less, before we reach our true home.

Questions: Share a story about the ways in which your desire has expressed itself in a relationship, in a creative project, or at work.

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Closing Words:

Longing is a compass that guides us through life. We may never get what we really want, that’s true, but every step along the way will be determined by it.
— Joan D. Chittister in The Psalms: Meditations for Every Day of the Year

To Practice This Thought: In what directions are your yearnings pointing you?

Group Session Plan based on resources on Yearning from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Yearning.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

A few weeks ago I mentioned Barry Andrews’ article “The Roots of Unitarian Universalist Spirituality in New England Transcendentalism” in a post about the role of spirituality in our tradition. That post (and Barry’s article) come to mind as I think about this week’s small group ministry session on X-The Mystery, based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com. Why? Because the reading for this mystery, the divine, sky, Godsession is from the poet Mary Oliver (beloved by UUs everywhere, it seems). Oliver mentions something that reminded me a lot of a quote by Emerson in the “Roots” article. Emerson says that his “transcendental experience” (the one where he becomes a gigantic eyeball or something like that) gave rise to a “double consciousness”; that even though one lives mostly in the mundane world, a single experience with the divine, the Mysterious X, “will characterize the days.” Oliver says a similar sort of thing: that her “sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world” was a moment that she has “never forgotten, and upon which” she has “based many decisions in the years since.” Definitely sounds like it has characterized her days. At any rate, take a look at the complete passage from Mary Oliver. Perhaps you’ve had a similar sort of moment. If so, does it continue to affect your decisions? Does it characterize your days?

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
— Albert Einstein quoted in Holy Clues by Stephen Kendrick

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Topic:

An Excerpt from Long Life by Mary Oliver

This collection of prose and poetry by poet Mary Oliver offers what she calls “little alleluias” to nature, animals, soul, place and literature. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of mystery.

Once, years ago, I emerged from the woods in the early morning at the end of a walk and — it was the most casual of moments — as I stepped from under the trees into the mild, pouring-down sunlight I experienced a sudden impact, a seizure of happiness. It was not the drowning sort of happiness, rather the floating sort. I made no struggle toward it; it was given. Time seemed to vanish. Urgency vanished. Any important difference between myself and all other things vanished. I knew that I belonged to the world, and felt comfortably my own containment in the totality. I did not feel that I understood any mystery, not at all; rather that I could be happy and feel blessed within the perplexity — the summer morning, its gentleness, the sense of the great work being done though the grass where I stood scarcely trembled. As I say, it was the most casual of moments, not mystical as the word is usually meant, for there was no vision, or anything extraordinary at all, but only a sudden awareness of the citizenry of all things within one world: leaves, dust, thrushes and finches, men and women. And yet it was a moment I have never forgotten, and upon which I have based many decisions in the years since.

Questions: Reflect upon the things you just can’t explain in your daily life, especially ones that you are having difficulty leaving alone. Describe the mystery but don’t try to add an explanation.

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Closing Words:

Accustom your tongue to say, I do not know.
— The Talmud

To Practice This Thought:
Take time to really see what is right in front of you.

Group Session Plan based on resources on X-The Mystery from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: X-The Mystery.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

If there’s one practice that may connect the disparate traditions that inform Unitarian Universalism, it may be the theme of this week’s small group ministry session based on resources from spiritualityandpractice.com: Wonder. Wonder may be at the root of all human yearnings for the transcendent, the amusement park, coney island, D300, digital image, ferris wheel, HDR, high dynamic range imaging, image of the day, linkedin, new image, night exposure, Nikon, photo, photograph, Photography, wonder wheelultimate, the divine; and as such, it motivates much of what we do as a species (once we’ve satisfied our basic physical and emotional needs.)  Indeed, wonder could very well be the place in a Venn diagram where religion, science, and art all meet. As Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat say in their introduction to this practice, wonder “increases our capacity to be a bold inner space tripper and an avid explorer of the physical world.” I like that. If the transcendent element is a string that runs through existence from the farthest reaches of the Cosmos into deepest recesses of our hearts, wonder is the frequency at which is vibrates. All we have to do is attune our senses to that vibration and wonder reveals itself to us.

Chalice/Candle Lighting

Opening Words:

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel quoted in Finding Your Own Spiritual Path by Peg Thompson

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A Teaching Story from A Season in the Desert: Making Time Holy by W. Paul Jones.

W. Paul Jones, a Methodist minister who is now a Trappist monk, presents a thought-provoking overview of the Christian faith as a pilgrimage based on the sacralization of time. He discusses the Incarnation, sanctification, the daily offices, and the meanings inherent in the church year. In the following excerpt, he gets at the heart of the spiritual practice of wonder:

As I have mentioned, my spiritual director, a hermit, once smiled at me and concluded: “The difference between the two of us is that, while life for me is a matter of passing through, for you it is a matter of drinking deeply of everything along the way.” True. I do not want to miss the aroma of even one wild strawberry along the path. That is, I want to live deeply in time in all its manifold richness.

Perhaps it was because I was younger then, but I often remember an experience with an Atlanta elevator. At a conference in a hotel there, some friends suggested that as an “adventure” I ride with them in a glass elevator to the top. Slowly it rose, as I took in the gothic-like panorama beneath: of water features, plants, chandeliers, and colorful people of all kinds. Suddenly we burst through the roof into momentary darkness, then into a glass tube, where stretching out in all directions were the lights of Atlanta’s skyline and above it, the trek of endless stars. While still mesmerized, we penetrated through a floor into a sphere at the top. And as the doors opened, a friendly voice, with a warm handshake, bid us come and eat.

That night, at a table slowly rotating above the glittering city below, we told stories of past, present, and future. That was when I knowingly celebrated for the first time that I was a joyful denizen of time. Even the infinite space all around was bathed in time. Just that morning I had read that an astronomer had perceived a quark twelve billion light-years hence. Staggered by it all, that night I toasted the God of time, drinking thankfully for being alive in all of time’s multifarious intersections.

Questions: Share a story of some experience, event, or person that aroused or renewed your sense of wonder.

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Closing Words:

In the muddled mess of this world, in the confusion and boredom and amazement, we ought to be able to spot something — an event, a person, a memory, an act, a turning of the soul, the flash of bright wings, the surprise of sweet compassion — somewhere we ought to pick out a glory to celebrate.
— Samuel H. Miller in The Dilemma of Modern Belief

To Practice This Thought:Identify something glorious and celebrate it!

Group Session Plan based on resources on Wonder from www.spiritualityandpractice.com.

For a PDF version of this small group ministry session, click here: Wonder.

For more information on small group ministry, visit the UU Small Group Ministry Network.

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