Volume 98, Number 5
Observation: 1. To see, watch, perceive or notice, 2. To regard with attention, so as to see or learn something. (Webster’s Encyclopedia)
“You can experience the beauty of nature only when you sit with it, observe it, breathe it and talk to it.” (Sanchita Pandey, ‘Lessons from my Garden’)
My wife and I have often remarked how our youngest granddaughter in the first year of her life would spend minutes just studying the faces of her parents, grandparents and older sister. Like many infants, she will sometimes be rapt with attention as she stares at the person who is holding her. She seems to take great delight in recognizing and noticing the details and distinctions in the faces of these individuals who love her. So, the behavior of learning from observing begins early in our lives.
Diocesan Spred Centers are encouraged to establish a location where interested adults can observe a Spred session. What happens during observation? Who can benefit from this practice? Why is it encouraged?
The experience from Spred in Chicago is that observation is the best way for interested adults to learn about the Spred method and to see a total community session without disruption. It is one thing to explain how our friends can grow in faith through friendship and community with a catechesis that models reverence and silence by starting with the human person and his or her own experiences. But it is another thing to actually see a total community session live in real time. As a result, there are now observation centers at the Spred Center in the Bridgeport neighborhood, at Queen of Angels on the north side, and in the Lake County location of St. Francis de Sales in Lake Zurich.
A Spred observation session requires many elements consistent with Spred - some preparation, hospitality and welcome, a reasonably comfortable environment, respect for the dignity of each person and an opportunity to reflect on what Spred catechesis can bring to your own life. At the Spred Center in Chicago, a ‘booth host’ welcomes all those who have called ahead to express their interest to observe a session. Participants may include experienced Spred catechists, other adults who have almost no knowledge of Spred but want to check it out, parents who are wondering if Spred will work for their daughter or son, and parish priests, deacons or staff interested in starting a Spred community in their own parish. The volunteer host introduces what the gathering will experience over the next two hours - trying to be sensitive to varying needs, expectations and concerns.
After this settling in and brief remarks, the group adjourns to a quiet darkened room with a one-way view into the Activity Room. A few barely noticeable microphones hang from the ceiling allowing the observers to hear the quiet music and the simple greetings when a friend arrives and is warmly greeted.
As observers settle into their seats, they notice the catechists and friends sitting at the same table and the activity catechist quietly surveying the room for those who need special assistance. Observers are often surprised by the quiet peace and they notice the focus on individual work over the prevalence of social interactions.
In the booth, the host may whisper a few responses to questions or point out our friends by name, but largely, the session speaks for itself. Eventually the ‘silent circle’ is formed and the observers perceive some of the personality and excitement that each person brings to the Spred session. We in the booth, try to turn our chairs around quietly as the community accepts the individual call by the activity catechist to go to the Sacred Room, or as some groups call it, the Celebration Room.
In the Sacred Room, the Spred community reaps the harvest of the group’s preparation from the previous week’s catechist prep session and the quiet activity from the prior 50-60 minutes together. Starting with a human experience, every member of the group is invited by the leader catechist to participate in their own way - with helper catechists who are able to give voice to their friend and draw their attention to the small details of the object or picture.
As the discussion progresses to the goal of the session in subtle and sometimes surprising ways, the observers feel their own hearts being moved. The leader continues to bring out aspects of this human experience, until she is convinced that each person can relate to the object or picture with a story or feeling that leans into the goal of the session.
Only when the leader is ready does she shift the discussion to an evocation of a liturgical experience. Ideally, it is an aspect of liturgy that the community has experienced together. Without connecting the dots, the group recalls an experience of church that sits side by side with the evocation of the human experience.
Seamlessly, the leader moves to the Bible, the Holy Book, for the brief Scripture verse. It is read several times. It may even be sung or chanted in a simple call and response.
The reading is juxtaposed with our own experience as human beings and as a faith community. There is no homily nor lecture. We are present with our own experiences. We enjoy some silence.
As the leader catechist gives the message to each person, the observers strain to hear the words that are so eagerly awaited. When the leader completes her round and says aloud, ‘Jesus says to each of us tonight....’ there is a sense in the observation booth that we have been included in this message.
We listen to the music of the personal expression. It can be a psalm or hymn. Then we watch as the group moves together around the Holy Book. Finally, a few seconds (or minutes) of silence concludes with catechesis in the Sacred Room.
Agape is the third movement in the Spred total community session. The Agape has been called many things: a fellowship table, table sharing, time to be around the table, etc. Agape itself recalls the love that all share after the experience in the Sacred Room. When all are happy to be together, it is easy to be together around a beautiful table sharing food, drink and friendship.
Those of us in the observation booth, quietly turn our chairs around to face the Activity Room again. We see how each person shares in the preparation of the table by bringing table mats, simple dishes, glasses and a variety of food and drink so each one can share no matter what diet restrictions they may cope with. We witness the celebration of kindness and friendship. We enjoy hearing the songs shared and joined in by all.
This brings to a close our time in the observation booth. We return to our hospitality room to complete information sheets and have the opportunity to gather our thoughts and feelings about what we have experienced.
Many current Spred catechists have said that it was the experience of observation that moved them to commit to this ministry. Observation has helped many parents to decide that their child could benefit from this experience of a faith community.
After some reflection in the observers hospitality room, the core team of the session we just observed, come to visit with us. Many times the reflections, discussions and insights shared find their way into Spred newsletters and into Spred training.
This feedback time is an opportunity to listen to the concerns of parents. They may be afraid to leave their son or daughter with strangers, even if the catechists are parish volunteers. They may be afraid that their child may not get along with others. Volunteer catechists who are observing also may need some reassurance, “What if the children, or adults, do not like me?” “How will I know what to do?”
As an experienced catechist of more than 15 years, I find the practice of observing a well-prepared session valuable for my own Spred community.
It reminds me and inspires me to take preparation time seriously, as individuals and as a faith community of adult believers. It provides me with ideas to try (e.g. chanting the biblical message). And it helps me describe what Spred is by recalling these observation experiences.
I surprisingly feel a part of the community I have observed, although in a somewhat different and remote way. I believe the Holy Spirit is not constrained by the one-way mirror - and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are also bestowed upon those of us in the observation booth as well.
The two disciples hear what John said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher). “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. John 1:37-39
St.Denis Leader Catechist and Observation Booth Host
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