Lenten Book Studies: Intergenerational

The joy of books (one of many joys) is that even browsing their spines helps my brain wander & imagine & reconsider. New ideas come to mind, or I find a word that I’ve been missing.

So it’s no surprise that I was browsing my bookshelves and started to imagine what an intergenerational book study might look like in a congregation this Lent. I pulled five books in particular that have refreshed & inspired my perspective at different times, imagining what might be possible if these books are used separately or together for a creative, interactive, all-ages Lenten experience:

What to do with such an array of books this Lent? I suspect you have a few creative souls in your midst who can develop ideas from these books to engage many ages around the same table, but here are some brainstorms to get you started:

BIBLE STUDY with Children of God + Praying in Color: For a Lenten small group that will include participants of many ages, begin with a coloring prompt for prayer (or a praying prompt to color?) with young and old alike putting pens & crayons & markers to paper. Ask each one to say something about the prayer they’ve colored, and then read a Bible story together. The younger ones can create & color their own pictures to tell more about the story, while the older ones can talk about how they hear this story anew in Desmond Tutu’s retelling; you might find that the appropriate groups for this activity are not younger/older but extroverts/introverts or creators/thinkers. The two activities of praying and storytelling will not likely take more than an hour, so I recommend pairing these activities with a shared meal.

MOVEMENT with Sacred Pause + Dancing with Jesus: Get your small group moving this Lent! Pay attention to God by paying attention to the body, God’s temple & vessel. Use the voice & body exercises in chapter one of Sacred Pause as a warm-up, and then learn one of Jesus’ hip dances. All ages can do these body movements, and some of the younger ones can also be the dance leaders for the group! Then get your small group outside: take a walk together, sit in the grass and breathe, visit a playground or park. Increase the warm-up exercises with each meeting, and then walk a little farther or play a little harder or explore a little further when the group is outdoors.

HEAD GAMES with Wordplay + Sacred Pause: For the thinkers and inquisitive types in your congregation — or perhaps a confirmands/adults combo — a Lenten small group that dives into faith language could be a hit! Use the chapters of Sacred Pause for the content of the small group’s meetings, and then assign a Wordplay article for participants’ reflection between meetings. For example, use Chapter 8, “Tipping Sacred Cows” from Sacred Pause to discuss the ways we value Scripture, and then spend the week individually meditating on Wordplay‘s article about “magnetic” to dig deeper into our attraction to (and idolization of?) particular words in faith. The art in Wordplay can also provide a Lenten challenge for your small group of thinkers to express themselves artistically.

There’s simply no shortage of resources and ideas to use for Lenten small groups in your ministry or congregation. Find a book that resonates with you, think outside the box about making your group inclusive of many ages and learning styles, and expect to witness your small group’s growth of creativity & relationship & faith!

Lenten Book Studies: Writing to God

For many years, I’ve written prayers as an occasional faith exercise, but prayer-writing as a spiritual practice really took on rhythm for me in a small group setting one Lenten season almost a decade ago. The intentional time in community — writing, reflecting, sharing, encouraging — deepened the impact of written prayers for me, and greatly informed the ways that I invite others to create their own small group experiences of prayer-writing.

For those who feel hesitant in prayer or in writing (or both), prayer-writing in a small group can be an intimidating premise, yet the small group experience is precisely what we need to remember that we’re not alone in our praying (or writing) struggles. In a small group of prayer-writers, we discover moments of grace and delight. We  practice focus and silence together. We learn from one another’s journeys. We take prayer “out of our heads” and engage breath & body & conversation & fellowship.

To write prayers in your own small group this Lent, I suggest inviting persons who enjoy writing as well as those who are seeking a fresh approach to prayer. Find a regular time to meet; weekly meetings are great for building rapport in a new small group. Choose a meeting place where everyone has room to write around the same table. Sometimes the church is a logical meeting space, but I encourage writing groups to meet in non-church locations; the change of scenery provides a tangible reminder that prayer goes beyond our church walls. My practice is to begin meetings with short writing prompts before introducing a scriptural prompt for prayer — using Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen or crafting new prompts.

For detailed tips on leading a prayer-writing small group this Lent, and for six weeks of guided writing resources and prayer prompts, download my free Small Group Guide for Writing to God. You’re also welcome to drop me a message to ask questions about your prayer-writing small group.

Want to read more? Expand the generations of prayer-writers this Lent by using Writing to God: Kids’ Edition with the children in your life at home or at church.

Lenten Book Studies: Streams Run Uphill

For congregations that are serious about responding to the headlines of #MeToo and racialized violence, I highly recommend Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color for an adult Lenten book study.

I often hear white adults and predominantly white churches ask, “Where do we begin?” and “Who will teach us?” as they strive to understand experiences & injustices that they know to be critically important but find too overwhelming to ascertain a place to begin. There are many places to enter the intersected conversations of racism and sexism. For an honest, confessional reckoning during the season of Lent, Streams Run Uphill is one such entree that pushes us all as the Church toward the Kingdom of God.

When Streams Run Uphill was first released, I reflected:

I feel simultaneously encouraged and disheartened by the stories shared by clergywomen whose divine call and ministerial leadership were/are received by the Church through the harsh filters of racism, sexism, ageism, and general xenophobia. Through their stories and their ministries, these clergywomen are leading the way toward a vision of wholeness as one diverse Body of Christ. In order to follow their lead, Streams Run Uphill is a must-read.

For small groups and adult ed classes that read Streams Run Uphill for Lent, I recommend the following seven-session outline of reading & discussion for weekly meetings:

  1. Read the Foreword, Prologue, and Introduction. That’s it. Dip your toes into the book, and pay attention to your responses as a reader. Are you anxious as you start a book that wrestles with the Church? Do you feel asea in this conversation about racism, finding words or references you don’t understand, worrying that you need to know the full history of racism in order to read & discuss this particular book on racism? Reflect together as a group: What do you hope for the experience of reading this book? What do you hope for your own congregation and for the Church at large?
  2. Read & discuss chapters one and two: “Embracing Womanhood” and “Where Are You Really From?”
  3. Read & discuss chapters three and four: “You’re How Old?” and “Finding Your Place.”
  4. Read & discuss chapters five and six: “We Need You” and “Living a Paradox.”
  5. Read & discuss chapters seven and eight: “The Other Pastor” and “What’s My Passion?”
  6. Read & discuss chapters nine and ten: “Can You Hear Me Now?” and “Here I Am.”
  7. Read the Epilogue and Afterword. Spend time individually reflecting on your experience of this book, its impact on your worldview and faith, and the convictions it has stirred within you. How will you turn those convictions (emotions) into commitments (actions)? Ask similar questions as a group: “What do we believe because we have read Streams Run Uphill? What will we now do — individually and/or together — to resist and upset racism & sexism in our congregation, in our community, in the Church? How will we hold one another accountable to these commitments?”

Studying Streams Run Uphill during Lent is an excellent, confessional step in the ongoing work of predominantly white congregations to address racism and sexism, both internally and externally.

Want to read more? For those who facilitate a predominantly white group through an extended conversation on racism, I recommend The Anti-Racism Cookbook, a practical guide with concrete tools for helping a group hear & process its biases and perceptions in conversation. For those who are looking for more autobiographical books to be exposed to stories they might otherwise not be hearing in their daily lives & circles of family/friends, I’m looking forward to the May 2018 release of No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black & Free in America by Darnell Moore, and I encourage you to put it on your “to read” list as well.

Lenten Book Studies: The Mystic in You

I love the opportunity that Lent offers for intentional spiritual growth in & through community, which can be especially meaningful in a small group setting. Choosing a book to study as a small group can provide focus and ready-to-go content that is engaging while also being low-prep for the small group’s organizers (or shared leadership).

I recently had the opportunity to review Bruce Epperly’s new book, The Mystic in You: Discovering a God-filled World, which is well-suited for a Lenten small group. As I shared with the book’s publisher, Upper Room Books:

Into a world that is raging and rushed comes a book to remind us of wonder and joy. The Mystic in You is a wise companion for such a time as this, and Bruce Epperly is the quintessential pastor as he gently points our harried hearts toward the presence of God, not for our own peace alone but for the healing of creation. A book for dreamers and activists, skeptics and scholars, and all of us who are seeking to attend more fully to life’s heartaches and holiness.

As a book for the Lenten season, The Mystic in You provides a rich opportunity to explore and affirm our awareness of God’s presence throughout daily life and all creation. As Epperly writes, “I believe that ordinary people can become mystics! At any moment every day, anyone can experience holiness” (p 7). How fitting to Lent that we should take time to pay close attention to God’s proximity and delight.

Each chapter of The Mystic in You is designed to teach and then engage: first sharing stories of mystics who were particularly attuned to God’s presence, and then providing spiritual practices for us to arouse our own awareness & awe. Small groups will recognize some of the mystics named and also meet less familiar mystics (both Christian and non): from Saint Francis of Assisi to Howard Thurman, from Mechthild of Magdeburg to the Baal Shem Tov. Likewise there will be familiar and new spiritual practices to enrich the Lenten journey: praying through daily tasks and dancing, advocating for environmental policies and practicing appreciation of beauty.

For small groups using The Mystic in You in Lent, I recommend that participants read two chapters per week (twelve chapters in six weeks) and choose one of the suggested spiritual practices to observe in their daily lives for the week. The small group meetings can provide time to discuss the two chapters that have been studied and to share individual experiences of the spiritual practices that have been used. (Individuals who use The Mystic in You for Lent can follow the same basic schedule.)

Want to read more? If The Mystic in You resonates and sparks a curiosity for more Christian mysticism, I highly recommend For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics.