05 September 2010

Faith Sharing

I am currently reading The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by James Martin, SJ.

In the book, he talks about a practice in the Jesuit community that is called "faith sharing". I immediately recognized this process as the one we used when I belonged to the Ignatian lay community called the Charistian Life Community.

Many Methodists talk about reinstating the original Methodist classes and many people wonder what they might do in such a "class" when they gather to hold their fellow members accountable in love. My own experience of "faith sharing" (I didn't know of this term until I read the book) was that it was the most profound experience of fellowship and growth in faith and prayer that I have ever had. And Fr. Martin can explain it better than I can, so I offer his words here:
Every Sunday night in the novitiate our community gathered for "faith sharing," which meant speaking to one another about our spiritual lives: where we had experienced God in our daily lives and what our prayer was like.

There were two rules. First, everything was confidential. Second, no comments were allowed after someone spoke, unless it was a question asked to clarify something.

The first rule made sense. The second seemed ridiculous. Early on, when people expressed their struggles, I wanted to say, "Why not try this?" If someone talked about being lonely, I wanted to say, "Knock on my door." I couldn't understand why the novice director wanted us to be silent.

Gradually I realized: it was so we could listen....

Gradually I grew to love faith sharing. When my fellow novices, as well as Gerry and his assistant, David, shared about how they had experienced God in the previous week, I was fascinated. What a wonder to see how complicated these men were and how much they were all trying to grow in holiness, trying to be better men, better Jesuits.
I've wanted to write about my experience in CLC for a long time. But it's hard to write about because it's so simple. I personally found the rule of "no talking except to clarify" to be rule that made the entire process work and I think that many people find it a bit silly. But here is what I found:

* When no one can tell another that they disagree with his or her experience of God or that the speaker has got their doctrine wrong then people begin to be totally honest with each other.

* When no one interrupts others, the speakers don't get desperate to talk more in order to be heard and the listeners actually listen instead of worrying about what to say.

* The Spirit of God does move to challenge people and hold them accountable without any human in the group needing to don the mantle of Spiritual Rule-maker.

* When people are really honest about what is genuinely going on in their faith-life, the group members grow to love and appreciate each other and to understand their challenges.

In my experience in CLC, neither accountability nor faith-sharing required a human police(wo)man to make sure everyone was on track. God managed just fine without human intervention.

I'm not an historian of exactly how Wesley did things, but my hunch is that this format would work well for many accountability groups in our time. But the urge to make exceptions to the second rule really does need to be resisted at all cost.

5 comments:

Jonathan Robinson said...

thanks for sharing that. sounds like a very good practice, i always like disciplines that let God get a word in edgeways!

johnmeunier said...

I wonder what would happen to the blogosphere if we all followed the CLC rules?

I shudder to think.

Great post, Pam. Thanks.

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John S Wren said...

We are starting a faith sharing group this afternoon I'm going to start by reading this to the people who show up for this first session. Thanks very much

PamBG said...

I'm glad it's going to be of help to you so long after it was written! Blessings to your new group.