In what has become an annual tradition at Journey, the first Sunday in January we take a break from our regular structure and organize a night of contemplative stations. The new year always begins with such a bang, doesn't it? It doesn't take long for any of us to begin feeling behind, or overwhelmed, or buried in lists of resolutions and project to-do lists. To counteract this cultured rush into a new year, we offer a night meant for reflection, quiet, and plenty of unhurried time. It's a night to ponder what God might have us do with the gift of time stretching before us.
Preparing a night of stations is a different process than our usual bantering around a particular passage of scripture, but in our process we still maintain focus on communal voice. As one of our Elders Dale Carter explains, "Stations are a community event and require group participation, so that is why we love it. It reinforces what we believe, which is that we are not governed by a single person but all voices in the community are valued. For each station, we talk through what we feel will be the community response as group participation is so important."
This year we decided to organize our stations around parts of the body—head, hands, heart, etc. Deciding the theme is usually the hardest part, but this year we all expressed a desire to create stations that were direct and concrete to continue our theme in Advent of sowing the seeds of the coming Kingdom. Body imagery has a wonderful pragmatism to it, while also providing plenty of space for thoughtful reflection. One of the critiques we've heard from past years is that we didn't provide enough concrete direction, so we were also mindful of that as we planned.
Luke Miller, another one of our Elders, explains, "There's a constant tension in my mind between the need for concrete takeaways and for creative questions that help people think about their lives in unfamiliar ways. You don't want the questions to be so obvious that people arrive at their answers without critical reflection, but there is still a need for people to have something tangible they can take home with them. I thought it would be cool if we could do some kind of mad lib of sorts. Ask people provocative questions to get them to arrive at a one-word answer that can be placed later into something that everyone can take home with them." We added a station for journaling and provided the "Mad Lib" inspired sheets Luke recommended, and people responded really favorably.
Stations tend to be a two-part process of planning and set up. The planning stage focuses on details—what stations, where they will go, what we will use as props, how we can manage the flow of people around the room. In set-up, we can then take a step back and see how the stations feel, how we respond to them. As Dale says, "When we set them up we get to actually visualize the ideas in real time. Some need tweaking as we see them and we have additional ideas as we go." This year, for example, we realized one station felt really flat and uninspiring, so we moved it across the room and changed the props. It ended up being one of the stations people stayed at the longest.
After our gathering, people talked about their responses to the experience. Stephanie Quinn said, "In helping set up and traveling through the Stations it allowed me to re-reflect on my journey through the year and to get refocused on some things that maybe I need to get back to, and I can remain diligent on the things that are still important to me." Her husband, Nels Quinn, said, "This somewhat unusual meeting was special to me, as last year's ‘Contemplative New Year' service was the very first Journey gathering I attended. While moving through the various stations, reflecting on the prompt messages, and the moods of each, I was reminded of where I was a year ago and how being a part of this community has affected me. Ironically, there appeared to be a number of ‘first-time Journey-ers' in attendance this evening—I hope that they too will find this the beginning of a new and challenging chapter of their lives."
1/4/2011 5:00:00 AM