True spiritual growth can be achieved only through the persistent exercise of real love... . The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention; we attend to that person's growth. When we love ourselves we attend to our own growth... . By far the most common and important way in which we can exercise our attention is by listening. — M. Scott Peck
Spirit of Life workshops offer participants space, time, and community to explore their Unitarian Universalist spirituality. Each focuses on a different aspect of the spiritual life, framed by the lyrics of Carolyn McDade's song "Spirit of Life." Like the song, the workshops are designed to be welcoming to Unitarian Universalists of many spiritual and theological persuasions. Participants are invited to claim an inclusive definition of spirituality and recognize the spiritual aspects of their lives.
Reflecting, speaking, and listening are core activities in each workshop. Listening, M. Scott Peck writes, is "a kind of attention that fosters spiritual growth." Participants in Spirit of Life are given space to silently reflect, to listen to the still small voice within. They are also given space to speak and to listen to other participants. Sharing honestly and listening attentively are affirmations of the inherent worth and dignity of each person and of our interdependent relationship to one another. Reflective and expressive activities invite participants to give attention to their lives and their choices so that they might live with mindfulness and intention.
The word "spirit" derives from the Latin word for breath and for inspiration. The "spirit of life" can thus be understood as inspiration for life, or the very breath of life. It can be felt as a loving force, a life force, or as (in the words of Howard Thurman) a growing edge, "the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor." The spirit of life can be experienced as god or goddess, as deity unfolding, as divine comforter. It can be felt as the collective human spirit, the power of nature, or innate wisdom. Each participant finds a meaning that speaks to his/her own understandings and experience.
As participants reflect on the following questions, they may grow in awareness and connection: "What experiences or moments have you had of feeling 'wow,' feelings of oneness with the earth, feelings of connection with the mystery and wonder of the universe, or a sense of God or the Spirit of Life?" "How have celebrations and rituals helped express your spirituality, and helped you connect with the Spirit of Life?" "What calls out for your care and compassion?" "How does your spirituality relate to the earth and our natural environment?" "In what ways do you show care, love, and respect to yourself? To others?" "What are the roots that 'hold you close' and the wings that 'set you free'?" "If you could reach your full potential as a person in touch with the spirit of life, what would you be like?"
Choice is central to Unitarian Universalism. Just as each of us is responsible for choosing our beliefs, we are responsible for choosing practices that support our living them. We can make our choices within the context of heritage and community. As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that truth—revelation—is continually unfolding. We learn from our experience and from one another. Spirit of Life accompanies its participants on a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" in the context of a covenanted congregational community.
May the Spirit of Life move through these workshops as you bring them to life.
- Become familiar with a broad and inclusive definition of spirituality—one that includes those who do and do not affirm the existence of spirit or deity
- Evaluate their experiences of the spiritual during turning points in their lives and during day-to-day living
- Learn methods for being attentive to their spirituality
- Consider the value of spiritual practice, in any variety of forms, as a means to deepen faith and enhance the quality of everyday living
- Participate in the spiritual practices of speaking and listening with respect
- Explore a vocabulary of reverence drawn from the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook Singing the Living Tradition and its supplement, Singing the Journey
- Articulate thoughts, feelings, and longings in authentic ways, and develop their understanding of the spiritually healing value of such authenticity
- Explore possibilities for deepening experiences of spirituality for themselves and for others in the context of their Unitarian Universalist congregation.
A team of two or more adults should lead the Spirit of Life workshops. The same co-leaders need not lead each workshop. However, consistency in leadership has many advantages for participants.
Leaders may be religious professionals, such as ministers or religious educators, or they may be committed laypersons. Consider using these criteria in choosing leaders:
- Knowledgeable about Unitarian Universalism
- Involved in the congregation
- Trusted within the congregation
- Effective at speaking, teaching, and facilitating
- Good listeners
- Responsible and respectful, with strong interpersonal boundaries
- Well organized and competent.
Leaders need to be capable of creating and nurturing a supportive, respectful, and safe learning community. If your congregation has a safe congregations policy, a code of ethics for leaders, or a covenant of right relations, make sure your Spirit of Life leaders become familiar with and affirm it.
Leaders are expected to be facilitators of learning. As such, their motivations and behavior should be tuned towards the learning needs of participants. Leaders interested in their own gratification or celebrity, or leaders with a theological axe to grind, might present a workshop that is more a "show" about the leaders than a learning experience for participants.
A leader can facilitate learning in these workshops without teaching experience or pedagogical knowledge. Throughout each workshop plan, leaders will find detailed guidance to conduct activities in a way that facilitates participants' learning.
Spirit of Life is designed for adult participants age eighteen and up. The workshops are equally suitable for a congregation's first-time visitors and its long-time members. To adapt a workshop for use with high school youth, leaders may need to revise some activities to make the concepts more concrete.
The program can accommodate any number of participants, with six participants an ideal minimum. Six or more participants allow you to divide the group into the pairs or triads that several activities require.
For a group of thirty or more, leaders will need to modify activities that involve small group presentations to the entire group. Co-leaders can split the whole group in half and facilitate in separate meeting spaces. The two, separate sets of small groups can then present simultaneously, each to their own half of the whole. Workshops with more than sixty participants will require further adaptation of some activities, including expansion of the leadership team.
Integrating All Participants
Leader Resource 1 from Workshop 1 offers tips to make the activities inclusive for all participants and accessible for people with particular cognitive, learning, and physical disabilities. In addition, some activity descriptions in the program include a section called Including All Participants, which includes specific suggestions for modifying that activity to meet particular accessibility needs.
The tips are not exhaustive. You may find they do not fully equip you to create a welcoming, accessible space for all of participants. The Unitarian Universalist Association website offers more information about accessibility for persons with disabilities—information that goes well beyond the recommendations listed in this program. Visit the UUA website and search the keyword "accessibility."