The Process of Forming a Centering Prayer Group
In the last newsletter, I outlined the process of setting up an introductory day. There was an emphasis throughout on the setting up of a support group post the introductory day. I will now talk about the process of setting up such a group. I have increasingly realised how being part of a support group is essential in our spiritual transformation. This is something emphasized in all spiritual teachings.
After the introductory day, I had a list of emails of people who attended, as well as those interested who could not attend. I emailed these people asking them for their preferences, where the group should meet, how often it should meet, when it should meet and how the group should run. Obviously it is impossible to meet everybody’s needs.
What emerged though were three groups meeting fortnightly. Fortnightly suited me as three groups a week would have been too much for me. Monthly and there is a tendency to lose continuity, especially if someone misses a meeting. One was in Nottingham, and two in a suburb of Nottingham where I live, where the introductory day was held, and where many people lived. Two were in the afternoon, one in the evening. The evening one clearly suited those still working, whereas retired people tend to have a preference for daytime meetings, and the majority of those attending were older. My commitment was to stay with the groups for as long as they wanted to continue meeting. They are still all running.
The next question was the length of each session. I know of groups where they meet for centering prayer, then depart; over in half-an-hour. Other groups have a reading or two, some sharing, and last less than an hour. My and the group’s preference was for a meeting of 90 minutes. We start with a period of CP. We then have cd/dvd in-put, though one group now prefers this in written form. We then have a time for discussion, sharing and questions. Normally there is far too much that people want to say and share for the time available. The most common response is that they have never had the chance to explore such matters anywhere else. It is not a therapeutic group, though inevitably people will share things from their own lives.
I hope I am conveying the sense that there are no rights and wrongs for groups. Each group will be different. Its needs will be different. The members of it come from different backgrounds and they will be at different stages of their spiritual journey. But that is what contributes to making the groups so exciting and vibrant. The people in the groups I run come from different denominations as well as those not affiliated to any church. This could be seen as problematic, but the emphasis is on respect and sharing personal spiritual experiences, not particular beliefs.
I was aware of the danger of following CP with discussion. Inevitably this process moves people out of their hearts and into their minds or ego’s. However, as long as everyone remembers that ultimately, we never can express that Divine Mystery in words or thoughts, there is no problem. Whilst a deepening understanding of what is happening and the processes involved can be very beneficial in the process of transformation.
In terms of the material used, this is a vast subject. We started with the follow up material from Thomas Keating. These can be borrowed from COUK, or can be downloaded online in audio form at a reasonable cost. The material used will depend on the group and the people in it. My groups have wanted more than just Thomas Keating. This has led us to use Laurence Freeman, John Main, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Eckhart Tolle and others, as well as continuing with Thomas Keating. They all give slightly different perspectives on the same issues, which has been found to be very helpful. Some people find one person more helpful, some another person.
I can truly say that being part of these groups has been an amazing privilege, one that has greatly helped to transform my spiritual life. I cannot rate them too highly. I would also encourage everybody to try and set up a group. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to be super spiritual. You don’t have to know more than everyone else. Just your gift of setting up the space and time is enough.
I have barely touched on all the issues to do with groups here. I am though more than happy to communicate in greater depth with anyone interested.
Richard Eddleston 22-02-2018