Transformative Small Groups
Listening to Jesus' Words in a New Kind of Way
By David Parks-Ramage
The following reflection is the third of three that David Parks-Ramage uses in introducing Zen Buddhist meditation to Christians. The first, “Becoming Intimate with Your Life,” was published here in September, the second, “Koans, Parables, and the Realm of God,” in October.
This final reflection focuses on the Transformative Small Group Process, based on a group process founded by John Tarrant, David Parks-Ramage, and collaborators at the Pacific Zen Institute in Santa Rosa, California. As it is here envisioned the group process has two main components to foster the transformation of consciousness and community. These are Meditation and Conversation.
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Meditation: Shining the Light Within
What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully till she finds it?
— Luke 15:8
Meditation is a choice to become intimate with your own life. In meditation, we are quiet and alert, open and available to what is happening now. In meditation we shine our light, our attention, within and notice. As we sit, there may be thoughts or emotions that rise. There may be bodily sensations. We may find our minds easily distracted.
In meditation the grace is to notice all of this and accept whatever is happening for you in the moment. This means acceptance without judgment, without prejudice, without evaluation, an acceptance of whatever is happening, whatever arises, without finding fault. Simply being aware. As this light shines on your experience, as your life rises to meet you, you will find a kindness and a compassion that will move you deeper into this land of discovery. To help we have the parables and sayings of Jesus.
Meditation: Introducing the Word
At a point early in the meditation, the Word is introduced.
Take, for example, Jesus’ “Love your enemies.” This Word is spoken into the silence, “Love your enemies,” with this instruction: There is nothing you need to do with these words. Simply keep company with them, be aware and allow them their own life. No need to manipulate, or understand or exegete. These words are for you. See how your life, you, rise to meet them. Simply allow these words to enter your consciousness. They will go where they go, do what they do. Simply keep company with the word.
When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.
— Luke 15:9
In meditation discoveries of what was thought to be lost are made. Conversation is an opportunity to share in our discoveries while continuing in an awareness that more discoveries are to be made, even as we converse. Though each group will have a convener, the assumption here is that Spirit is the facilitator of the group. She will guide the process as she will.
The conversation becomes a sort of group meditation with awareness focused on Spirit alive in the midst.
The convener may introduce the Word into the group setting, encouraging the discussion to unfold. Here the participants are reminded that the discussion is about how their lives rise to meet the Word, not on the meaning of the chosen passages. This could be phrased, “How are these words alive in you?”
Timetable for Small Groups
An hour and a half is set aside for the meeting. The room is set up with chairs in a circle, a low table with fabric, symbols, and candles in the center.
- The first 5 minutes can be for welcoming one another, introductions, and a short check-in
- 30 minutes for Meditation using the “Word for the week”
- Conversation begins, facilitator speaking the Word into the room. Conversation will find its own length; total time not to go over the 1.5 hour mark.
Last 5 minutes can be taken for announcements and a closing prayer of your choice.
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A Few Words of Jesus for Meditation
- Love your enemies.
- If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the realm of God is near.
- You are the light of the world (in Matthew; or perhaps, as it is recorded in John); I am the light of the world.
- Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.
- Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
- Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.
- And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
- He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
- Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
- So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.