When I was a young man, I took a class at the Shalem Institute on leading contemplative prayer groups. I’ve had several opportunities to lead groups devoted to meditation and/or contemplative prayer over the years, and I’ve always enjoyed participating in that kind of a communal setting. The other evening I had a conversation with my friend Phil who is the associate minister for spiritual development at a Protestant church near me. As part of his ministry there, he leads a wonderful group that meets weekly to engage in communal lectio divina — over the course of 90 minutes the group reads together the lessons and the Psalm from the common lectionary for the coming Sunday, and then each person reflects on which of the lessons they feel drawn to, which word or phrase in that lesson seems to be speaking to them, and what their sense of God’s call is for them in the lesson. Their time together is completed with 20 minutes of shared silence.
My friend mentioned that while the group is thriving, there seems to be a growing need for more interaction among the members, particularly in regard to their spiritual practice. He thought that this could signal the need for a new, or at least differently formatted, group, to meet in addition to the lectio group.
This conversation resonated with me because it touched a dream I’ve had for a while: to create a group that met regularly, either weekly or bi-weekly, that would combine shared silence, communal prayer, and the study and reflection of the writings of the mystics. Basically, such a group would be an experiment exploring this question: can lay Christians in our time support one another in their contemplative practice, drawing on the wisdom of the mystics of old? I think the answer to such a question must be ‘yes’ or else I wouldn’t be thinking about this at all. But as to how such a small group would work—that’s the interesting question.
It seems to me that such a group would almost have to be ecumenical in nature, for no one parish or congregation could provide enough people to make such a group viable. The reality is, most people drawn to contemplative spirituality are not necessarily drawn to a small group setting for interpersonal spiritual growth — and vice versa. To find 10-15 people who would want to read the mystics, and engage in a practice of daily prayer, and who would commit to meet 2-4 times a month with others engaged in a similar practice, I think it would be necessary to draw on the entire spectrum of Christian communities.
I know that the emergents in Cobb County (northwest of Atlanta) have a book discussion group called the “Group of Unknowing” that meets regularly. I haven’t participated in that simply because of the distance (from where I work to where they meet is about 45 miles). I’m curious to hear from anyone who reads this blog who might be involved in a centering prayer group, or some other small-group forum dedicated to the practice of contemplative Christian spirituality. I’m also curious to know if folks from the Decatur and East/Northeast regions of Atlanta would be interested in helping to create such a forum. I can’t commit to something like this indefinitely (people who know me will testify that when I get involved in a book project, other commitments tend to take a backseat!), but I think setting up a group that met for three to six months might be really valuable for all its participants.