Spiritual Practice Journal

October 06, 2008

The way it works is, we do a Spiritual Practice in class, with the whole group, then we break into small groups and do another one. In large group, we did Martin Luther's four-stranded garland, which is a way of praying using scripture. It's really touching and emotional, when a good scripture is used. I expect to use it again.

When my turn came to lead the "Spiritual Practice" in our class, I chose to have us forego the whole "be quiet and introspective" thing and actually, you know, speak to each other.

In my small group, there are 6 guys, 1 middle-aged male moderator, and no women. Going in, I knew their names and where they were from and what denomination they were, because every small-group "ice-breaker" involved them reciting that information.

What I didn't know was how they got here. And that's what I really wanted to know. One is from China and barely speaks English. One is from Mongolia. One is a gay guy from Baton Rouge, La. One came here with his wife, both to enter seminary.

Instead of sticking our heads in our navels, I wanted to talk.

There's a spiritual practice called "Testifying", which is done at a lot of African-American churches and small white churches. It's usually informal and involves people just telling how God has been at work in their lives, "testifying" to God's goodness and care. So I had them testify.

I learned so much about their struggles. I have a tendency to see the oppression I've suffered (which is real, and deep, and along more axes than one), as the WORST OPPRESSION ANYONE HAS EVER SUFFERED, EVER. And it's so not. Some of the people in my group lived under dictatorships. Some of them gave up everything to be here. Some of them lost friends in revolutions.

Since I'm a commuter, I don't get a lot of chances to really know the people I"m going to school with. I was happy for the chance to learn more about these remarkable people.

This session was weird.

In large group, they did something like "Reliving the day", where you meditate on the past 24 hours. It was centering and enjoyable.

The guy who led this week's session obviously wanted to preach. He read scripture (Jesus in the desert, fasting, getting tempted), then started explaining it to us. Others in the class were encouraged to explain it too. To me, "Bible Study" is not the same as spiritual practice. Bible study is usually more intellectual and more prone to provoke argument. Spiritual practice is more meditative, usually (even testifying), and isn't really a back-and-forth discussion.

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