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Introduction, Workshop 10: Looking Back and Moving Forward

In "Spirit in Practice," a Tapestry of Faith program

To live with soul is to live deeply rooted in knowing and feeling that we are connected to one another and to the earth, that our life is held in the embrace of something larger than ourselves—a wisdom, a presence, a grace "whose beatitude is accessible to us," says Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "The Over-Soul." To have soul is to hear life's deep music and to move in response to its pulse, rhythm, and harmony. To have soul is to be awake to life. To have soul is to live with a sensitive awareness of the real presence of other human beings and the earth. It is turning your hands to the work of justice and compassion, your mind to the call of wisdom, your heart to decisions for life. It is making your whole being an act of praise.

—Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

It's often said that people do not learn new things until they have some kind of conceptual "hook" on which to hang them. This is the basis of the adage that you must communicate something at least five times before it's really heard; the first four times create the hook on which the person hangs the message when they (finally) hear it the fifth time.

With that in mind, it can be beneficial to look back over a series of workshops on the premise that something discussed in the first workshop might have deeper, or perhaps simply different, meaning many weeks later. This workshop is intended for groups that have done at least a few of the other workshops in the Spirit in Practice series; it will be especially important for those groups that have done the entire series in one form or another.

It has often been suggested that it is important for us to tend to our spiritual growth in four different time scales. There are some things we should do on a daily basis. Others we should make time for once a week. Some things should be done each month. And there are some things we should do on a yearly basis.

For example, you might want to pray or practice tai chi every day, while having conversations with a spiritual partner only once each week. You might decide to spend a day a month abstaining from food or from talking, as well as go on an overnight retreat each year. A variation of this framework encourages us to develop a spiritual regimen that includes practices that we do for one hour each day, one day a week, and one week a year.

A commitment to one's spiritual growth does indeed take discipline and persistence. Henry David Thoreau famously observed that most people "lead lives of quiet desperation," and in this he struck an all too contemporary chord. For himself, he noted that he did not want to "live what is not life" and "when I come to die, discover that I have not lived." This desire to live, and live life to its fullest, could well be said to be the core of the spiritual quest, its fuel and its fire. Isn't this worth a little work?

The first workshop in this series presented a structure for a holistic program of spiritual growth in eight "spheres": personal spiritual practices, communal worship practices, spiritual partnerships, mind practices, body practices, soul practices, life practices, and justice practices. A person who engages all eight spheres will be stretched and opened in so many ways and will find that each of these spheres nurtures and supports the others.

The next eight workshops in the series focused on each of these eight spheres, providing opportunities to see how each might fit into participants' own lives. This final workshop returns to the eight spheres as a whole—rather than as discrete parts—and encourages participants to find ways to engage all eight on a regular and consistent basis. This might be the end of this workshop series, or it might be the beginning of an ongoing small group through which members support and celebrate one another's practices.

There is no end to this work. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote in his Four Quartets—the source of the reading used in this session's opening activity—"the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." The place we will return to again and again is our own lives. May this journey be fruitful.

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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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