A Study Group As a Circle of Trust

I invite you to consider a study group as a Circle of Trust.  I became familiar with the term “Circle of Trust” back in 2004 with the publication of Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness.  Our community has engaged a number of retreats using the tool kit of the Circle of Trust.  Parker Palmer hails from the Quaker Tradition and shares in his book many insights of that tradition, which are in agreement with the teachings of Jesus.  He quotes Rufus Jones, one of the human sources used in the development of The Urantia Book, who writes: “I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.”  In the history of the development of The Urantia Book there was a communication known as the Publication Mandate that the Forum studied very closely which states:

The book is being given to those who are ready for it long before the day of its world-wide mission. Thousands of study groups must be brought into existence and the book must be translated into many tongues. Thus will the book be in readiness when the battle for man’s liberty is finally won and the world is once more made safe for the religion of Jesus and the freedom of mankind. [emphasis added]

Those thousands of study groups have the opportunity to be not only a place of intellectual appreciation of the revelation; as well, they have the opportunity of being a place “in which vital and transforming events take place.”  Our own study group, The Meadows (of Las Vegas) Study Group is such a place.  We begin and end each study group with a few minutes of worshipful silence to invite the soul to show up in a beneficial manner, to experience the peace which Jesus leaves to each of us.  Throughout the study group there is a quality of “meekness,” sensitivity to human need, an ability to “mourn,” to show vulnerability, when a story of depth is shared, and a sense of mercy and compassion as such stories are shared, that allows for souls to feel comfort, comradery, and friendship.

Indeed, I would suggest that many, many more study groups will come into existence, helping to prepare the way for the revelation, when they actually become containers in which “transforming events” that touch the soul can take place.

The following “Touchstones” are adapted from Parker Palmer’s Touchstones for Circles of Trust. More information can be found in his book and at The Center for Courage and Renewal: www.couragerenewal.org. Palmer’s methodology provides a safe harbor for the soul, which is shy, and an extremely important grounding for any genuine dialog.  The Touchstones are:

Extend and receive welcome. People learn best in hospitable spaces. In the Circle of Trust, we learn to support each other’s learning by giving and receiving sincere hospitality and friendship

Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys, and successes, your deep listening as well as your loving speech.

What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demandThis is not a “share or die” event! During this time, do whatever your soul calls for, and know that you do it with the support of the group.  If you choose not to say anything, that is perfectly fine. Your soul knows your needs better than anyone else.

Speak your truth in ways that respect other people’s truthOur views of reality do differ; speaking one’s truth in a Circle of Trust does not mean interpreting, correcting, or debating the perspective of others. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using “I” statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.  As with any study group there is room for correction of “fact,” when fact is misstated.

No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straightThis is one of the hardest guidelines for those in the helping professions. But it is one of the most vital rules if we wish to make a space that welcomes the soul and the inner teacher.  This is truly a manifestation of “fatherly love.”

Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections. With such questions, we help hear each other into deeper speech.  We learn the power of deep, empathetic listening.  Open questions are not “yes/no” questions; they are questions that open the soul to a deeper sharing.

When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her/him to this belief?” or “I wonder what (s)he’s feeling right now?” or “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others—and to yourself—more deeply and with wonder.  Be mindful of emotionally reactive responses that invite disunity, discord, and distress.

Attend to your own inner teacherWe learn from others, of course. But as we explore The Urantia Book and our stories, questions, and silence in a circle of trust, we have a special opportunity to learn from the inner teacher. So pay close attention, be mindful, to your own reactions and responses, to your most important inner teacher.

Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a great gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take a moment to reflect without immediately filling the space with words. Try not to overspeak.  Rumi says:*

Listen to the Silence
It has much to say
Silence is the language of God
All else is a poor translation
Keep Silent
Because the World of Silence
Is a Vast Fulness
Let Silence be your practice
Let Silence take you to the Core of Life

Observe deep confidentialityTrust comes from knowing that group members honor confidences and take seriously the ethics of privacy and discretion.  What is shared is shared in confidence.

Know that it’s possible to leave the circle with whatever it was that you needed when you arrived. Know that the seeds planted in a Circle of Trust can keep growing in the days, months, and years ahead.

— Gard Jameson has been a reader of The Urantia Book since 1972, and has attended study groups since then.  He is a Trustee at Urantia Foundation and the founder of Compassionate Las Vegas, www.compassionatelv.org

(* Rumi was a 13th-century Persian poet. Full name – Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī.)