Volume 98, Number 2
We often share in our Spred groups about the people on whom we depend. Even the strongest of us need other people who can be relied on to show up and support us when we have to make a decision and are unsure what to do for the best, when we are feeling below par and need someone to come alongside and help us or just because we are human beings who are not meant to do everything alone. The network of people on whom we rely might be called the scaffolding of our lives.
We all need some scaffolding in our lives. Some of us need it more than others but we all need it. Any activity that we are involved in, whether it’s cooking dinner, playing sport, being part of a group or even writing a Spred newsletter needs a structure so that we do what we set out to do. Structures are there not to constrain us but to support us.
So too our Spred sessions need a scaffolding to hold them together. The scaffolding helps us when we are new to Spred. We do not have to reinvent the wheel each time we come to our group. Our initial training, or our leadership training helps us to do what we set out to do. This scaffolding includes the structure of our Spred sessions. Recently at a session with a new leader catechist we spent time making sure we all know the order of the various parts of a Spred session. Some were amazed at how difficult it was to put each part in its correct place, even though they knew how to move from one part of the session to another when they were working on an actual session. This shows how much of what we do is absorbed at a deep level of our consiousness - a bit like asking an experienced driver how to drive. They just do it, just as we just do our Spred session.
Often the elements of the scaffolding of Spred go unnoticed because we have become so used to them but it’s worth taking time to think about how well we use them to support our sessions.
In a previous newsletter we looked at three elements of the scaffolding of Spred: a sense of ministry, the gift of the Spred method, and the beautiful environment that we create for our Spred sessions. In this newsletter we will look at three other elements of that scaffolding.
+God’s presence in the events of our everyday lives
God’s presence in the events of our everyday lives
A song we have often used in Spred is Bernadette Farrell’s “Everyday God”. The lyrics of that hymn evoke God whose presence is felt in our resting, in our rising, in our dreaming, and sharing.
God’s presence is felt as ‘gentle father’... ‘faithful brother’... ‘tender sister’... ‘loving mother’.
In other words, the song evokes God who is present in every moment of our lives and in the people we encounter in our lives.
Everyday God is the God whom we lead our friends to encounter in our Spred sessions. Gathered around the Holy Book of God’s Word, we use a simple object from everyday life, one that our friends will recognize, flowers, leaves, candle to evoke everyday experiences. We recall and we help our friends to recall experiences of peace, joy, belonging, enjoying the beauty of creation. We recall the people who help us and those we are called to help. We recall people who make us feel good and fill us with life. We recall good times and we are grateful for them. If we recall the hard times, then we are grateful to those who helped us through them.
All these precious things that we share around the Holy Book are the stuff of our lives. Many people would not call these religious experiences and yet that is exactly what they are. They do not necessarily happen in prayer, nor in a church but they are still places of encounter with God. They are places of encounter with God who made all the created things in which we rejoice and in whose image the people with whom we share our lives are made.
The sharing of our lives continues around our agape table. This too is a religious experience, evoking our Eucharistic celebrations and so the stories that we tell are also stories of our lives in God although we rarely say that explicitly. Sometimes people say, when asked if they have any news to share at the table, that they have nothing, they haven’t been doing anything special. However our news does not have to be extraordinary. The simple events of our daily lives are worth sharing because our lives are precious in God’s sight.
Relationships are at the heart of the Spred method. As we all know, the one on one relationship between the catechist and friend speaks of God who longs to share friendship with us. For a friend, the experience of the faithful presence of the catechist, ready and waiting to welcome them at each session, evokes the faithful love of the Father who is already waiting to welcome His children whenever they turn to Him. It does not matter if the friend is having an off day and is not at his or her best. The catechist is still there waiting and welcoming. And the same applies in reverse. Our relationships with our friends shows us that ‘the Lord does not see as people see; they look on the outward appearance; but the Lord looks on the heart.’(1 Samuel 16:7) Our friends have a way of seeing that looks past external appearances to look straight to the core of who we really are. They teach us who we are in God’s eyes, beloved children of God, not what we wear, what we drive, or how much we weigh.
Relationships among Spred catechists are equally important. Spred groups are mostly made up of people who did not know one another very well before they began, but over the course of training and of working together genuine friendships form. They develop a depth that is very precious. Because we trust our fellow catechists, we share things about ourselves that very few others know about us. We trust that what we share will be held in confidence. These bonds of trust support the whole group. We trust that our fellow catechists have the best interests of our friends at heart. Trust builds community and without community there is no Spred.
The Spred community was never intended to be a group of people who do not look beyond
themselves but be a bridge into full participation in the life of the wider parish community. So the Spred group must have a good relationship with that wider community. This includes not only the parish priest whose support for and participation in the group is vital if it is to thrive but others involved in the parish. For example, if the Spred group has a representative on the parish council, the parish will know about and can support the ministry of the Spred group and the work of the Spred group can support the pastoral aims of the parish.
If the ministers of welcome know our friends they will receive a special welcome and if the extraordinary ministers of communion are aware of our friends they will be more attuned to their needs. Music ministers are indispensible to the celebration of Spred family liturgies. It is also helpful to build relationships with groups such as the St. Vincent de Paul and other social groups depending on the parish. When we look beyond ourselves we can find ways to belong.
Observers of Spred sessions often remark how quiet and peaceful the session is. Sometimes this is a surprise to a group who might have been aware of noise, chatter, difficulties with an activity. What this indicates is that there is something more to the quiet and peace of a Spred session than simply a lack of sound. There will be the sound of people moving about, a gentle word of reassurance or a friend for whom not having a chat is a work in progress. We might be replaying a conversation from earlier in the day or what we will have for dinner tomorrow. We need silence. As St. Theresa of Calcutta said, “God is the friend of silence.” If God is to be heard in our hearts and in the hearts of our friends, we need to leave room for God to speak. Stillness happens when the internal and external stop and when our bodies relax so that our movements too become still. Stillness allows us to be open to God not just as one who speaks directly to us but as one who speaks to us through those around us.
Stillness is created by the group that arrives and prepares for the session, aware that preparation is more than just putting out activities and all that is needed for the agape. Preparation involves leaving enough time for each catechist to settle quietly with their chosen activity. Stillness is created by the quiet tones in which an activity catechist greets each friend, making them feel truly welcome. Stillness is created by the way in which a helper catechist shows, rather than tells a friend how to use an activity. Stillness is created by the activity and leader catechist who move quietly and unhurriedly across the room. When we are as close to stillness as we can reasonably be, we treasure it and try to maintain it as we put our activities away and move into the silence circle. We treasure it when we leave the celebration room so that our setting of the table truly evokes the preparation of the altar at Mass rather than a mad rush to get everything on the table.
A recent speaker on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day said that “stillness allows us to observe an experience all the while accepting that we won’t be able to grasp everything.” Stillness, he said, is like the “conversation of lovers” in which “there is thought but also a unique desire to comprehend as much of the other person as possible. In stillness we can pass a celebratory, approving, lingering gaze of the inner eye upon the reality of creation.”
In stillness, the members of the Spred community can gaze on the beauty that is the reality of each one of us, created in God’s image and likeness.
Spred Director Glasgow, Scotland
© 2013 SPRED, Special Religious Development . all rights preserved to SPRED.