Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Will the Circle Be Unbroken?"

The circle has been known since before recorded history. A cool, nonthreatening sphere, measured in serene, equal distances from the center to all points on its perimeter, perfect examples are found over and over again in nature, smiled upon by the sun and moon. Whether we speak of geometry or relationship, a circle—resisting the claim of a beginning or end—symbolizes who God is and all God does.

Each member of a circle is visible. As blessings and experiences of pain are shared in a circle, first by simply being able to see and hear everyone, the understanding that we are greater than ourselves, we are not alone, begins to dawn on us, and become solidified. The rituals that are performed in the setting of the circle serve to remind us of our relationship to life and to one another. It reminds us that we are not alone; we are connected, and what we do affects others.. To author Christina Baldwin, the circle functions as a place of empowerment —a place where “ordinary people convene to accomplish a specific task and to support each other.” Simply stated, “the circle can emerge anywhere that it is invited.”[1] Writer Judith Duerk poses the question, “How might your life have been different, if…?”[2] She continues throughout the book to offer images of woman’s connectedness to the sacred within self, with one to another, and with the created earth—essentially describing our need for a place of remembrance and nurturing, of celebrating who we are and the importance of integrating this connectedness throughout life’s passages.

I've been around Circles -- Lutheran church basement ladies, hello?--But now my task (also known as assignment) was to really look, pay attention and analyze it not just socially but spiritually.
The Circle I met with, "Circle of Grace" is a small group of women and men who meet regularly on Sundays at Lake Harriett Dance Center in Richfield. Learning from one another through the vehicle of narrative is one core, systemic motivation behind the gathering of Circle of Grace. There are varied religious backgrounds, traditions and beliefs represented by members of this group, and worship, per se, is not the direct goal of coming together. However, if worship can be recognized within moments of personal narrative that describes pain, grief or loss, that celebrates joy, love, peace and acceptance—or any other element of the human condition—and believing that worship is a very basic recognition that begins with “more than us, right here and right now,” I would say worship is primary among the reactions or results recognized during the hour of meeting at Circle of Grace.

For the group sharing portion of the service, a “talking stick” is used. The stick is passed around the circle, and as you take it from the person beside you, you may hold it or pass it on. The person holding the stick is allowed uninterrupted time to share joys or concerns, or reflect upon what is happening in their life as it relates to the suggested theme. We are invited to listen without formulating any comment or response to the person sharing. I am keenly aware of my own desire to interrupt or comment! It is not really counted as "listening" when your mind constantly ticks with a rebuttal or witty repartee. In this moment I am struck by the honor and respect of allowing each person to develop their own narrative, and to be fully present to their story without pushing it through one’s own filter. It is an exercise, I believe, in pastoral care by and for each and every person present.

The simplicity, creativity and intimacy of the group--particularly in the ritual practice recreated for each of us today with meaning that was at once present and vital, ancient and guarded--had a profound impact on me. For each service, all elements are carried in and carried out. How much do we “need” to worship? Ritual is infused with creativity and simplicity. How is our expression of love and faith as “new every morning” as God’s love and steadfastness is made known to us? Care for one another was palpable and showed itself in ways of intent listening and respect and in the silent welcoming or understanding of one another’s joy or sorrow. How often do we destroy the fragile seedling of vulnerability by trampling on it with cliché or observance that misses not only the point, but the person? How can we better understand that we are not called to “fix” but rather called to simply “be?” Writing our intention seals it not only in my mind, but in the act of placing it trustfully into the center basket of the circle, the movement of my body ignites my spirit to connect and remember in a new way.

Processing life together involves work, commitment, sacrifice of time and money. It is an investment that yields wealth in spirit, that has potential to nourish and sustain us. It causes us to learn and grow in grace and in recognition of Divine love. It is about trust and intention, giving and taking, seizing and letting go. Christina Baldwin ends one chapter with this phrase, “I am one person. You are one person. That makes two of us. Two of us, with a candle in the middle and the right attitude, make a circle.”[3] Jesus said, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20). The spirit of God is the light within us that bows to the other: “Namaste.”[4]

Grace and Peace,
[1] Christina Baldwin, Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture (Newberg, OR: Swan Raven & Co, 1994), 11.

[2] Judith Duerk, Circle of Stones: A Woman's Journey to Herself (San Diego, CA: LuraMedia, 1989), xvii.

[3] Baldwin, 171.

[4]Namaste” is a respectful greeting, interpreted many times as “The God in me bows to the God in you.”

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