Meeting for Reading
Meeting for Reading is a column that offers reviews of new and forthcoming books intended to nurture spiritual deepening among Friends. The books selected are particularly useful to Meeting book discussion groups.
A Guide to Faithfulness Groups by Marcelle Martin. With essays by Viv Hawkins, Ken Jacobsen, Emma Churchman, Allison Randall, Marge Abbott, and Benjamin Warnke. Inner Light Books, 2019.
"A Guide to Faithfulness Groups is both a source of renewal and a way forward through the evil unleashed in our world over the past three years."
By Ellen Michaud
Marcelle Martin is a gift.
At a time in which many Friends throughout the United States are becoming exhausted by the level of social and political activism necessary to counteract the penchant in our national leadership for igniting violence, imprisoning children, cozying up to international criminals, abandoning geopolitical friends, stripping away human rights, encouraging white supremacy, and deliberately sabotaging hard-won environmental gains that could save the planet’s air, seas, land and wildlife, Marcelle’s new book, A Guide to Faithfulness Groups, is both a source of renewal and a way forward through the evil unleashed in our world over the past three years. It offers us a practical, step-by-step approach through which we can literally step back, draw a deep breath, nurture one another, deepen our connection to the Spirit, renew our strength, discern the way forward, and stay the course.
By rights, you’d expect it would take a complicated academic approach to accomplish anything so momentous. Yet the tool Marcelle offers us to deepen our faith and build our strength is deceptively simple. She calls it a “faithfulness group,” and traces its evolution to a peer group process that emerged out of a program she attended at the Shalem Institute in 2005.
Essentially, she writes, a faithfulness group provides peer support for anyone “…following a leading, living out a call, engaging in service, undertaking some sort of ministry, or being faithful in carrying out one’s job or family commitments.” The group helps the individual pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit, helps them discern leadings, and helps them discover ways to remove barriers to the service to which they are led.
This kind of help is invaluable. As Marcelle points out, “Western culture has a long history of denying and discrediting the inward voice of the soul, of the Spirit, and of God. Most of us have learned, consciously and unconsciously, to do this.” As a result, she adds, “…divine guidance may register in our consciousness only in very fleeting, subtle ways.”
Fortunately, a faithfulness group helps us shake off the tendency to deny, ignore, or discredit our experiences with the divine, helps us pay attention to those subtle inner impressions we might otherwise overlook, and helps us see more clearly what it is we’re led to do.
The faithfulness group, which is often only two to four members, meets regularly, listens to a 15-minute presentation by the person who is seeking their help to faithfully follow a perceived leading or call. The group’s role is one of holy accompaniment. They do not try to solve the presenter’s problems or fill in details. Instead, out of the silence, they may be led to raise questions that will help the person on whom they are focused to raise their own questions as the individual examines his or her relationship to God. As Marcelle points out, “The faithfulness group format assumes that if the members of the group are openly and willingly attuned to the Spirit, any necessary assistance, learning, critique, and prayer will be expressed or revealed inwardly to the presenter, with the help of the group’s prayerful presence and Spirit-led questions.”
The experience not only helps participants clarify what they are being led to do, she suggests, but allows them to absorb the power and presence of God needed to build the spiritual strength to get it done.
As they’ve evolved, Marcelle’s faithfulness groups have been used by several long-term programs in both Philadelphia and New England Yearly Meetings, and have been shared through workshops at Pendle Hill and the FGC Gathering.
Her book displays the wisdom and lessons learned through this seasoning, and includes detailed instructions on how to form a faithfulness group, plus specific suggestions on the format, roles participants play, and time allotted for prayers and questions. Suggestions are also made that may help us open ourselves more fully to God and facilitate deep listening.
The book concludes with six appendices that describe other kinds of sacred and healing circles and the experiences of Viv Hawkins, Ken Jacobsen, Emma Churchman, Allison Randall, and Marge Abbott with them. The book concludes with an essay on “Restoring the Ecology of Faithfullness” by Benjamin Warnke. As Friend Benjamin writes:
Our journeys are often lonely, confused and hard. We live too often apart from one another, struggling in solitude to make sense of an experience that we apprehend as solitary but is not. Only our connections to each other help to steady and guide us. Only in our ability to see God in each other are we able to discern God in ourselves; only in acknowledging that of God in ourselves are we able to find the divine elsewhere and everywhere. Early Friends seem to have experienced this connectedness, to have fashioned an interconnected ecosystem where the Spirit flourished.
Surely we can do this again.
Ellen Michaud is an award-winning author and editor who has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens, and Prevention Magazine, where she was the editor-at-large for six years. Her book Blessed: Living a Grateful Life (Readers Digest) was named the #1 Spiritual/Inspirational Book of the Year by USA Book News. Ellen was also the 2012 writer-in-residence at Earlham School of Religion.
Read a sample chapter here. And buy the book here.