As I began reflecting on my experiences in Group Spiritual Direction, I began to realize how difficult it is to explain. I started attending a Group Spiritual Direction group two years ago, not really knowing what it was, but wanting to learn to hear God’s voice more clearly.
Somehow it seems easier to explain what Group Spiritual Direction is not, rather than what it is. Group Spiritual Direction is not a prayer or bible study group; it is not a social group; it is not group therapy;
it is not a group where you receive advice; it’s not even a group where anyone talks very much about what is going on in their life.
Instead of any of those things, Group Spiritual Direction is a monthly gathering of small groups of four to six people who come together and support one another while each person meets with God. We agree to hold what is said in confidence, and although we might see each other around the church, or be friends outside of the group, we don’t follow up with one another or ask, “How is that thing going?”, about anything mentioned in the group. It is a personal appointment to make space and listen for what God wants to communicate. Nothing more, nothing less.
Each monthly meeting follows the same pattern. The group I attend gathers in a conference room with low lighting and a candle to set a calming mood. We sit in silent prayer for a while to calm away the busy-ness of the day and focus on being open to what God has to say that day. After opening in prayer for each person in the circle, our leader reads a pre-selected scripture. We use a process called Lectio Divina, where the scripture is read three times and during each reading we focus on listening to the scripture in a different way, with a pause for silent prayer between. First, listening for whatever stands out in the passage. Second, listening for any emotions that are triggered by the passage. Finally, listening for an invitation from God.
After reading the passage three times, we sit again in silent prayer and think about the important phrases, emotions and invitations of the passage, and focus on listening for God’s voice. Eventually, someone is ready and starts to share.
When I share, I don’t talk about the details of my life or explain the context of what God is telling me. I simply state what stood out to me in the passage, the emotions I felt, and whatever invitation I heard. Frequently, the combination of these elements doesn’t really make sense at first.
At this point, the focus of the group shifts from personal silent prayer and our own conversations with God to a focus on the one person who is sharing. As we go back into silent prayer again, we all pray for the one person who just shared, supporting them with our prayers so that they can more easily focus on God and what he is saying to them.
After a while, the person listening to God is ready and again shares what God communicated. Sometimes this is a phrase: “God said, ‘I am with you.’” Sometimes this is an emotion, “I felt a sense of love surrounding me.” Sometimes it is an image or vision, “I saw a flower turning towards the sun.” Maybe there are elements of all three.
Next, each person in the group reflects back what they heard or saw as the person shared what God Communicated. Reflecting well takes practice. It is being a true mirror that reflects back the simple essence of God’s communication as reported by the listener. “I heard you say, ‘God is with you.’” Or, “When you said, ‘God’s love surrounded me,’ your face lit up,” or even, “When you said, ‘A flower,’ you moved your hands like this.” With reflection, there is no commentary, no advice. There is just a simple repeating of what was said. I am often surprised and encouraged by the reflections mirrored back to me by the members of the group. Their words often reinforce the message God is communicating, or maybe they reflect back something I heard and reported, but I had dismissed as less important than another phrase. The reflection emphasizes a different word and I gain new insight into what God is saying to me or doing in my life.
Once we have all reflected back, the leader of my group asks how the group can support a good conclusion to this communication from God. Depending on what God said, I might choose to spend a bit more time in silent prayer, to pray aloud, or ask for someone to pray for me. This conclusion wraps up and seals my personal communication from God, and the group goes back into silent prayer to listen for God until the next person is ready to share what God is saying to them.
After everyone has shared, listened, and mirrored, we might take a few minutes to discuss how it went. Where we heard or felt God’s presence, and what got in the way or distracted us from God’s presence.
Finally, our leader closes in prayer. But it doesn’t quite end there: we spend a few more minutes in silent prayer, holding onto and remembering what God communicated. One by one, as each person is ready, we leave in silence.
Each month at Group Spiritual Direction, the same thing surprises me: It doesn’t matter what scripture is read, God can use that passage to say anything to anyone. God uses the passage being read to say something totally different and completely specific to the needs of each person, every time.
God wants to communicate; Group Spiritual Direction is simply another way to practice listening to Him.