This is the review of the second part of the Taste and See Course carried out at the Parish of St. Mary in Barton-on-Humber and part of the Lincoln Diocese.
|Week 4 has a feedback on Ignatian Prayer, which is an asked for uninterrupted one by one, followed by a silence, followed by invited offers of a prayer one by one. Both should be invited, not asked for, and there is the right not to speak as well as speak. This could be a lengthy session. I largely passed over this, because the pessimism regarding the course and the effort of the first depressing review had in part reduced my will to make a contribution. I did consider a first principle as rewritten, in terms of All will be well and all manner of things will be well, and furthermore I had often considered knowing my vocation with my gifts, opportunities and abilities (one of the tasks that should have been prior to five tasks in every case, we had said).|
|The introduction to Celtic Prayer had a sense of the second hand about it, despite the handout from Chapter 5 of Esther de Waal's The Celtic Way of Prayer. Incidentally, this is not properly referenced, and Sources and acknowledgements on page 32 only cover the first two weeks. There is a timidity about tackling some of the theological aspects of Celtic spirituality, namely the immanence of divinity in place and activity. Once again the theology is narrow, and full of assumptions, and the result of this is that the course misses the contemporary nature of Celtic spirituality never mind a fuller appreciation of the history. There is no recognition that Celtic spirituality finds expression in and also beyond Christianity - in Findhorn as well as Iona. So much more could have been introduced about this.|
|Why there was suddenly a turn to silence was unexplained and out of keeping with what had been introduced. The given Bible references about silence give every suggestion, through the irrelevance of their content, that these were found via an Internet search engine and added. One has the phrase "strike dumb", which rather refers to this section of the course and the following task.|
|Instead of the utterly irrelevant and unconnected task, of silence yet again, the Barton-on-Humber group thus set up its own choices of taskfor the week, relevant to the spirituality. These were a short prayer weaving God into daily routine, a religious craft, looking at art work around relgious texts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells, and a liturgy in the form of an Office about life or place.|
|I decided to write a Late Evening Celtic Liturgy, based on the Compline, but drawing on Anglican, Unitarian, United Hebrew Congregations, Buddhist and Pagan sources, bringing texts into a whole around the passing of day to night and night on to the next day, with a sense of place, the place of nature, and one's activities. More than this, the liturgy identifies where I am religiously, pushing doctrine as hard as I can and yet leaving it flexible and plural.|
|I read this out in the feedback in the next session. There were comments of good material contained within and also that despite the various sources I had brought it to a whole. A prayer by another participant was a reflection on the activities of Christmas preparation. There was a sense for one person that collecting Scottish island prayers, drawing on the sea and seasons, was false, and was like pastiche (this word offered by another). I said falseness is not a problem: the author of the Gorsedd Prayer in my liturgy, Iolo Morgannowg, was a Unitarian who believed himself to be a reincarnated Druid (of its Order) and produced many false documents, yet had produced such as the Gorsedd Prayer and had produced the literary ceremony of the Eisteddfod in which Rowan Williams had himself participated in as a Bard. Clearly a number of people had been left uncertain about the course in the Celtic session; this time they had been put off the task despite the revision we made regarding the tasks - a feeling I had experienced the week before after I had written the first review.|
|After the feedback came one of the shortest introductions one might expect to the subject of fasting. The leader's notes would have been better in the main body of the course - less the repetition. We knew that we were padding out the session, because having discovered that the blanket statement "'With prayer and fasting' (Mark 9:29)" (page 24) actually does not appear like this in most manuscripts, omitting "and fasting", people went looking for other variations of texts across the Bibles. Again the course is timid: I introduced the Muslim experience of Ramadan, and its purpose of fasting being awareness and therefore prayer. Someone pointed out that Lent has a practical basis in cutting out milk and butter in that this is when calves get the milk as part of the agricultural cycle. Again this could all have been introduced as part of a more rounded and complete introduction to fasting. We even looked at the etymology of the word, which would not have gone amiss.|
|There were questions in the feedback the following week that we said should be in the explanation for this session: why is the discipline of fasting neglected in the Western Church, negative associations with fasting, guarding against these and having fasting as an aid to prayer instead, of a partial fast, of a once a week short fast, fasting with prayer meetings, and other forms of non-food fasting. These concern the breadth of issus concerning fasting. They need moving forward. Otherwise they introduce new issues that may not have featured in any feedback and they are not feedback. (Perhaps they were there to pad out the last week's session.)|
|The fasting task itself should be more clearly optional, never mind a stress of medical exception or seeking medical advice. Anyone considering medical advice on this task should probably not do the task anyway. An alternative could have been offered of a War On Want type lunch, or a change to vegetarian awareness or eating according to the diets of some people in poverty at home or abroad. There is just a complete lack of imagination as well as lack of explanation.|
|Only one person of the group did a twenty four hour fast, and one other did a partial fast. The fact that blood sugar is an issue shows the danger in this. The person who did it got nothing from it, we were told. There is such little guidance as to what it is for, and thus the experience failed to achieve anything. The two agreed that the only value in it was an accompanying prayer about having food available when there is a fast. I had done nothing towards this week's task, due to too much disruption. Another had done nothing. Two had looked at one of the Bible readings that tackled fasting (doing a sort of Lectio Divina on fasting). My point was that a group could be set up to continue the spiritual practices in the course, but fasting will only ever be done a few times in a year. Past reflective experience of fasting suggests following the advice to avoid masochism and avoid focus on the loss of food - the focus should be on a spiritual aim. It is a practice that really should be done in a community setting, that gives that other focus. Thus fasting is best a monastic practice, where monks do without knowing full well that the larders are stocked. There was agreement that the course should have presented other forms of self-denial as options.|
|The sixth session has a Review feedback regarding the whole course. It involves allocating tokens from individuals to the different topics (for some reason it misses out Gazing on Art), as a sort of scoring (which may be inappropriate - introducing a numerical aspect to a qualitative field), which may then lead to discussion about preferences, and may go on to lead to any thoughts about the course's impact on the future. This is hardly a very long session, even if the feedback on fasting was to go on a bit (and why would it, other than for these additional questions?).|
We discussed the course in general and gave scores out of 10 each - higher for better. We made Lectio Divina and Gazing at Art two separate categories to score. So Being Still, Lectio Divina, Gazing at Art, Ignatian spirituality, Celtic spirituality and Fasting were each scored according how that part of the course had related to the spiritual task - this included our changes to the Celtic task without penalty. We announced our figures in the open, given all that had been said and was known between us. However, the facilitator decided not to score on the basis of his self-declared apparent bias (more likely, experience). So up to six people could score, but two had missed out from doing the session on Lectio Divina and Gazing at Art and therefore, potentially, either or both tasks. I scored:
5 for BS, 4 for LD, 5 for GA, 4 for I, 6 for C and 2 for F. The group result was:
34/6 for BS, 24/4 for LD, 25/4 for GA, 36/6 for I, 20/6 for C and 15/6 for F. That was:
5.667 for BS, 6 for LD, 6.25 for GA, 6 for I, 3.333 for C and 2.5 for F.
After some discussion we did decide to score purely on the content of the course as presented. I would have scored 4 for Lectio Divina and 3 for Gazing at Art, but we now scored according to the weeks. I gave these:
3 for BS (1), 3 for LD/ GA (2), 3 for I (3), 3 for C (4), 3 for F (5) and 3 for Review (6).
The group scored, all 6 scoring (as all could read the course booklet):
15 for BS (1), 31 for LD/ GA (2), 33 for I (3), 10 for C (4), 17 for F (5) and 18 for R (6). That was:
2.5 for BS (1), 5.167 for LD/ GA (2), 5.5 for I (3), 1.667 for C (4) 2.833 for F (5) and 3 for R (6).
|In my opinion, the scores for the course itself are still too influenced by the outcome. Nevertheless we gave low scores for all categories: in the outcome related scoring one person gave 10 to Ignatian spirituality because it had suddenly come in useful as a practice when visiting London. Given that 10, and another high score (I think 8), the scores given were really pathetic. I commented wryly that, "Ignatian got a grade C." I was criticised for giving a high score to Celtic spirituality because I already knew something about it; this is valid because it is based on the changes we made to the task, one of which was my suggestion (a liturgy) and which I carried out. So, really, my score for Celtic spirituality was too high. It and the score for that week should be lower.|
|The course, we agreed, was not co-ordinated and lacked consistency. Each explanation should have included a why, each should have focused on the task and directly, with more explanation, theological assumptions were part of the timidity, and should have drawn parallels with other faiths (Ramadan was mentioned by someone else than me). In that it was simply to Taste and See, then the task should have been differentiated with progression. Someone suggested A B C, C being the most involing and complex. I said, for example, Being Still could have had five minutes for a simpler task, but offered 20 minutes, and techniques of focusing on breathing, counting and looking at a candle.|
|Regarding feedback on this overall feedback/ take it further section, it is vague. I suggest here that this section could and should introduce more advanced points on each subject area, one by one, and open them to specific discussion, benefiting from the fact that they had been experienced to some small degree - then those who wanted to take such practices further could do so, perhaps brought back into prayer groups or as new group.|
|One person had wished the group to continue. The group itself had developed a good dynamic. It would have scored very highly, but would have done so whatever the content. My own view is that had the content been good, the group experience would have been more intense and more challenging. The group always had a divided function between doing and critiquing: the more valuable experience would be doing without having to critique. As it is, this course cannot properly be done because, as the scores show, it is too confused and weak as a course, leading to frustration and alienation. It did not on us, because of the dual function, and because some of us knew about the spiritualities already or their parallels.|
|One gets the sense that the whole course is disjointed and thrown together, and that in some cases a weekly session is introduced and somehow the writer became bored with the subject and lost interest or at least cohesion.|
|It could have been so much better. It needed to be more focused within sessions and throughout the whole. It needed better explanation. The tasks needed more flexibility and more strategies, and in some cases needed to be on-topic. The tasks need more as well as less, depths as well as toe-dipping. They need to lead on to more, later, should a group investigate a spirituality further. The session contents are too short for the two hours one would expect the meetings to take, and here content can be expanded into explanation - including the "why", the theological variations (where they exist) and other faiths in parallel spiritualities where helpful and relevant. The sessions require much of the leaders, and many leaders will be left bereft of what to say, do and suggest unless they already have some expertise in these spiritualities.|
|As it stands the course is likely to have a negative impact on participants, with feelings of inadequacy due to wrongly pitched sessions, lack of explanation and patronising content. It makes theological assumptions and is too narrowly drawn. It should not be introduced as a course for widespread use; it needs at best to be thoroughly rewritten for consistency, focus and better content, with tasks central and tied into the text.|
Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful