I had a great day yesterday at Harnhill Centre, with people from the Gloucester Diocese. About sixty people gathered to explore Soul Spark in response to a Diocesan initiative to encourage it through Lent (or another time this year).
I was asked to provide something that launched the venture, that catered for the mix of people interested in running their own and those interested in participating.
What we put together seemed to work really well, so I thought I’d share it here as a way in which others who might be aiming to pull together a similar event might have something to work with.
The day ran from 10am to 2.30pm and people brought packed lunches.
The programme ran like this:
10.00 Registration, Coffee
10.20 Welcome and general introduction
10.30 Talk about the roots of Soul Spark. I covered these points:
- Meister Eckhart’s ‘spark in the soul’
- Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross ‘inner flame of love’
- Emmaus Road ‘did not our hearts burn’
- The point of Soul Spark is to help people pay better attention to their own ‘soul sparks’ that they become flames and fires, burning in love and service of God (the church seems not to be that good at helping people to do this!)
- I illustrated this with some of my ‘soul sparks’
- the Music of Van Morrison that leads me to pray and praise
- my experience of Imaginative Contemplation that let me to a profound sense of being God’s son – beloved
- my experience of being led to dance – across the threshold of fear of what others might think
- Key underlying wisdom that Soul Spark is founded on
- Ignatius ‘it is relishing the touch of God that nourishes and transforms the soul… not knowledge’ – i.e. noticing the spark and paying attention to it will change people, not being told about how God can change people.
- Ignatius ‘allow the creator to deal with the creature’
- This means Soul Spark can be emotional, joyful and difficult
- For some this means that they will make a positive choose to not to continue – this is as much a success as someone who stays with it!
- Everyone’s journey is unique, between them and God
- The three key elements of a Soul Spark session:
- Prayer – a range of approaches that particularly focus on how we can receive from or listen to God in prayer
- Sharing – the speaking of inner personal prayer experience
- Reflection – our own reflection on what the meaning and impact of our experience is – and the reflections within the Christian tradition that help put perspective on the personal experience.
10.45 Stilling and Prayer Exercise
- Simple breathing stilling – seeking to receive from God
- Imaginative Contemplation – John 1.35-39 – leaving people to have time with Jesus
11.20 Listening Groups
- Because of the large numbers we invited people to form groups of three and asked them to engage in the listening process.
- share what you are comfortable with sharing (and not what you are not comfortable with sharing)
- listen to each other (with ears only – no verbal responses)
- each person has 5-7 minutes to share
- confidentiality – nothing shared is repeated or raised outside the group by anyone (other than the person who shared – they remain in control of it)
11.50 Reflection on Listening
- Listen to feedback about how people found the process
- this ranged from ‘wonderfully freeing’ to ‘I hated it’
- all responses were gratefully received
- some key points about the process were offered in response
- it is a strange process so entirely normal to have mix of responses
- it can take getting used to – most start to appreciate it over a few sessions, so encourage ‘trusting the process’ and noticing how things develop
- we start to listen better to others when we don’t have to respond
- we help people find their own ability to talk about their experience by listening to them without distracting responses
- this form of listening is ‘faith sharing’, ‘witnessing’ and enables better personal natural faith sharing outside of the context of Soul Spark – so Soul Spark is actually evangelistic!
12.10 Reflections on Spirituality & Soul Spark
- What is spirituality?
- An aspect of human nature – the inner / search for meaning and purpose / seeking ‘the other’. In society today we have range of views on this, from denial that there is this aspect of human nature (Roger Dawkins), to absolute belief in it (pretty well all religions, but also the non-religious but spiritual)
- Biblically – spiritual comes from St Paul and means the work of the Holy Spirit in a person (we can see this as the interaction between the spiritual aspect of human nature and God)
- Spiritual Traditions – collections of approaches and practices – e.g. Benedictine, Ignatian, Zen etc
- How might we understand Christian spirituality?
- Who am I and how do I live out who I am?
- in relationship to God, self and others
- This is intensely practical – an interweaving between inner attention and practical living
- Soul Spark gives a context for giving particular attention to all of this.
- Who am I and how do I live out who I am?
- Running Soul Spark – the three Rs
- Responsibility: It is an awesome responsibility to seek to enable people to engage with God – take off your shoes this is Holy Ground – lest you trample where God is already (Max Warren)
- Risky: It will feel risky to run this – it is not only participants who need to be encouraged to ‘trust the process’ (i.e. trust God)
- Rewarding: There is plenty to delight in when you witness God at work in people. We don’t run it for the reward (we run it for God to spark souls) but we can enjoy the by-product!
- Follow on to Soul Spark
- Do it yourselves: Soul Spark offers a process that can be pursued without needing another book! People can bring and share all sorts of resources for prayer – and then share and listen to each other.
- A course with a similar but different approach is ‘Helpful Habits’ also from Grove – Spirituality S129
1.15 Group gathering: These were
- Groups for those who were going to meet together to do Soul Spark
- Group for those hoping to lead Soul Spark
- Group for those seeking to find a Soul Spark group to join
These were largely practical gatherings to plan and gain information to share and be able to help things develop
1.45 Resources for the journey
- a sharing of key local resources (i.e. places for prayer and reflection, finding Spiritual Directors etc)
2.00 Closing Worship