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Activity 4: Council Circle
Activity time: 10 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Tool of the Day - a mirror
- Chalice candle or LED/battery-operated candle
- Safety matches and long fireplace matches
- Small dish for spent matches
- Candle snuffer
- Council candles (a tea light or votive candle for each participant, or some to share if group is very large)
- One tea light or votive candle of a different color
- Tray to hold council candles (preferably lined with sand)
- Woolen or other nonflammable blanket for smothering flames in case of emergency
- Optional: Glass bowl, water, and polished pebbles (for all participants, plus one extra) for alternative to council candles in tray
- Optional: Newsprint, markers, and tape
- Optional: A copy of the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition
- Optional: Toolbox of Our Faith poster, a piece of foil, a marker, and clear tape
Preparation for Activity
- Choose closing song(s), chant(s), or reading(s) from options provided under "Description of Activity" or from those regularly used in your congregation. As needed, write the words on newsprint and post. Co-leaders may wish to use the same closing ritual for each Toolbox of Faith session.
- Customize, print out, and photocopy the Taking It Home section for all participants.
- Prepare the chalice and lighter or matches for the Reflection. Prepare the tray of council candles, matches, safety measures, etc. for the Sharing of Joys and Concerns. Place items you will need in the center of the Council Circle.
- Decide how to introduce fire safety and emergency procedures to the group. Have needed safety materials nearby.
- Optional: Instead of using a tray of council candles for sharing, you can fill a glass bowl with water. Place polished pebbles next to the bowl. Ask children to come and drop a pebble in the water as they share. Or, you can have a floating council candle tray. Use a large glass vessel filled with water to hold floating tea lights or votive candles.
Description of Activity
Each session closes with a Council Circle. The goal of the Council Circle is to share our stories, listen to each other, and grow in faith together. Listening to each other is a religious act. The Council Circle includes three rituals: Reflection, Sharing of Joys and Concerns, and a Closing.
Gather the group in the Council Circle. Light the chalice.
Offer words spoken routinely in your congregational worship, or these:
We are Unitarian Universalists
with minds that think,
hearts that love,
and hands that are ready to serve.
Invite participants to pass the Tool of the Day as a talking stick and respond to these questions. You needn't pose all the questions; use whichever you need to prompt discussion.
- How does reflection help you see your internal self? How is it similar to the way a mirror helps you see your external self?
- What are the situations when you are most reflective, or most able to be reflective (such as around a campfire, on a mountain top, at night)?
- What kinds of things do you think about? What does your still, small voice say to you?
- What experiences have you had when reflection has given you fresh ideas? Calmed you down? Helped you solve a problem?
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
After discussion has closed, invite participants to share important things in their lives. What they share may or may not be related to the session topic and discussion.
Invite participants to light a council candle from the chalice flame as they share. If there are not enough candles, it is OK to snuff out and re-light a candle. Save the candle of a different color for last. When all who want to share joys and concerns have done so, light this candle with the words, "For all the joys and concerns that remain unspoken."
If you are using a glass bowl, water, and stones instead of council candles, invite participants to drop a stone into the bowl when they share. End the sharing by adding one last stone for unspoken joys and concerns.
Extinguish the council candles. Gather participants around the chalice; if it has been extinguished, re-light it.
Offer this reading, from a contemporary essay by Rabbi Michael Comins. You may wish to tell the group that Rabbi Comins has traveled to the site where Elijah is said to have had the experience of hearing the "still, small voice."
Not all silences are alike. Put in earplugs or enter a soundproof room and the silence is muggy and oppressive. Silence in a forested, mountain wilderness is rare. The wind howls, leaves rustle, birds chirp, insects buzz, creeks "sing." True silence, perhaps on a peak when the wind stops, is actually quite rare. It hits suddenly, with dramatic impact.
In Israel's deserts and the Sinai [where Elijah's story takes place], where the wind is usually still for at least half the day, the silence is vastly different. Close your eyes and wait for the wind to stop. This silence is total, yet light and natural - even embracing.
And precious. The smallest movement of an insect or the slightest breeze registers audibly. You hear the ruffling of your sleeve, or the call of a raven miles away. This is desert silence. Easily disturbed. A fragile silence.
From this desert silence come words that Elijah hears with his inner ear.
The voice asks, "Ma lekha po, Elijah?" Literally, the sentence reads, "What is for you here, Elijah?" But scholars translate this sentence as an expression, "Why are you here, Elijah?" or "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
If we stop to listen in the stillness, this is a question any of us can hear, anytime we walk the desert.
Who am I, when my achievements, titles, and bank account are left behind? When all that really matters is whether I can find shade and shelter. When the more possessions I carry on my back, the less chance I have of finding water.
Who am I, when the person I have become is a burden I can no longer carry, and the self-image and personality habits I have worked so hard to cultivate in the past, are precisely what might lead me to my death now?
When everything nonessential has been shed like a snake's skin, who am I?
Complete the Closing ritual with an element (meditation, benediction, song) commonly used in your congregational worship, or use one or more of the suggestions below. Base your choice(s) on the needs and energy level of your group. With your co-leaders, you may elect to use the same ritual to close every session.
A. Lead the group in singing "Meditation on Breathing," Hymn 1009 in Singing the Journey: A Hymnbook Supplement to Singing the Living Tradition. Hear the simple tune online.
B. Have the group read in unison Reading 452 by Marjorie Montgomery in Singing the Living Tradition:
Life is a gift for which we are grateful.
We gather in community to celebrate
of this great gift.
C. Sing or say the words to "From You I Receive," Hymn 402 in Singing the Living Tradition. Teach the group the accompanying movements.
From you I receive
Scoop the air by reaching toward other participants, then bringing air toward yourself at chest level, that is, receiving it.
To you I give
Opposite from above - scoop the air at chest level and push it outward to "give" to other participants.
Together we share
All grasp hands.
By this we live
Make fist of strength with each hand and stack one hand on top of the other at belly button level.
D. Go around the circle - using the Tool of the Day as a talking stick again, if you like - and invite each participant to say one thing they might like to do to give reflection a larger role in their lives. A higher-energy version of the above could involve the group repeating back, chant-style, the statement of each participant, and adding, "Go out into the world and reflect!"
E. Sing a familiar song. Suggestions: "Thula Klizeo," Hymn 1056 in Singing the Journey; "I Know This Rose Will Open," Hymn 396 in Singing the Living Tradition; or "Rejoice in Love," Hymn 380 in Singing the Living Tradition.
F. Use this team spirit chant, "Pump It Up!"
Leader: Pump, pump, pump it up!
Group: Pump, pump, pump it up!
Leader: Pump that UU spirit up!
Group: Pump that UU spirit up!
Instead of "Pump it up!" you may use "Fire it up!" or "Keep it up!"
Pass the Tool of the Day around the circle and invite participants, one at a time, to voice a way they plan to use the quality of faith that was explored today. Guide them to say:
With my UU [quality of faith, e.g., reflection], I will . . .
Lead the group in responding to each participant's contribution:
Group: "Go, UU, go!"
If you have not yet done so, invite a participant to tape or glue a piece of foil (to represent a mirror) and write the word "Reflection" on the Toolbox of Our Faith poster.
Extinguish the chalice.
Distribute Taking It Home handouts.
Thank and dismiss participants.