Last October I put a small note in the weekly email, inviting one or two members to come with me to a Circles of Trust retreat.
One of our goals this year is to pay attention to the ways we welcome each other into conversation. To this end, I’ve collected several conversation and small group formats for us to play with – one of which is Circles of Trust, developed by Quaker educator Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal.
The goal of Circles of Trust is to create safe spaces for meaningful reflection, so that we can each access our own inner teacher. (Read more here: http://www.couragerenewal.org/)
I’ve been dipping my toes into Circles of Trust for several years, reading books, talking with colleagues, experimenting with it in small ways. This retreat was my first opportunity to participate in a circle led by an experienced facilitator, Dan Hines. I hoped that someone from the congregation would participate with me, so that there would be two of us who could reflect on the value and utility of the format for Saskatoon Unitarians.
I was thrilled when Kathie Cram said she’d like to come, and, in exchange for congregational support, she would be willing to share her experiences and help lead a program in the spring.
Kathie and I both left the retreat excited by the possibilities. We see ways in which the format is very compatible with our principles and mission, and ways in which it would encourage us to stretch and grow.
On Sunday, March 25th, we’ll be leading a mini-Circles of trust retreat experience during the service time.
Here are some of Kathie’s thoughts on what the retreat meant to her . . .
“There is a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.” (Excerpt from William Stafford. The Way it is)
This poem was one of many that we contemplated at a retreat I attended in the foothills of Alberta. The retreat was offered through the Centre for Courage and Renewal and based on the teachings of Parker J. Palmer. The thread we followed was drawn together through questions, gentle guidance and art.
I wonder why? Who am I? What can I learn from my inner teacher? What can silence teach me?
It just so happened that I was ready for this particular retreat and these questions. I recently retired. One of the unexpected shifts has been how there now is space for thoughtfulness and imagination. These questions also are of some urgency in our world and province, torn apart by extremes, stereotypes and hatred.
So much of what happened was unexpected.
While sitting quietly with the ancient mountains, metaphors, poetry and new beauty emerged.
Within minutes of meeting someone, she shared her pain. Her outright honesty both startled and warmed me.
I was drawn to photographs of skulls and skeletons and realized the disturbance is what I needed.
As we gazed at photographs, walked the woods, listened deeply to one another, and wondered about the meaning of the poems, it struck me that our lives are stuffed full of contradictions. One of my “ah-ah” moments was the realization that mirror opposites can exist together and both have some thread of meaning and truth.
Although the gathering was not Christian focused, I was surrounded by people who are devote Christians. This initially worried me, but very quickly I discovered that what emerged was a deep wonder about how they thought and what meaning their faith had in their lives.
One of the touchstones that we were asked to embrace was “I wonder why they feel/think this way”? This question lends itself to story. If we knew each other’s stories, would we lean so quickly to judgement and hatred?