There is an increasing interest in study groups throughout the world. This is logical—after all, the revelators instructed: “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.”
But what defines a study group? What is its purpose and value? In general, a study group is defined as a small group of people who regularly meet to discuss shared fields of study. From this general perspective, all study groups provide the following benefits which should be periodically reviewed to reflect how our own groups are fulfilling their general mission:
- Study groups can be helpful when trying to learn new information and complex concepts. They provide the opportunity to think out loud, share ideas, and learn from one another.
- The group can “pick you up” when you find that your motivation to study is slipping. Group members can be a source of encouragement.
- a small-group setting is more amenable to asking questions
- Group members listen and discuss information and concepts during study sessions, adding a strong auditory dimension to the learning experience.
- One or more group members are likely to under – stand concepts or bring ideas the individual never considered.
- Valuable new study habits can be gleaned from other group members.
- Comparing knowledge with those of other group members can fill in the gaps.
- Teaching/explaining to other group members helps master information and concepts. Teaching brings with it the necessity for comprehensive knowledge of a subject.
- It is said that study can sometimes be boring. Interaction in a group, however, can make studying enjoyable and give the opportunity to socialize.
Beyond the personal benefits described above, the unique focus of The Urantia Book study groups is to explore the latest epochal revelation and extend this knowledge to society wherever we can. However, there is one additional responsibility and challenge that each member is called upon to earnestly undertake, and that is to uplift their capacity to actually live the religion of love and service revealed by Jesus.
At this point, you, The Urantia Book reader, may be saying, “I’ve done that—I have never felt so spiritual.” You are not alone with this impression. Many of us have been long-time spiritual seekers, and have been praying and meditating for a large part of our lives. We have been doing service in our community, and when we came across The Urantia Book we incorporated into our worldview the concepts that resonated; we could not help feeling special that the tome had “found” us. Life took on a new meaning just as it does when the downtrodden and non-believers discover God, whether through the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas, or the Talmud.
While this new knowledge and heightened experience may increase our vision of possibilities and elevate our ideals and values, it does not necessarily mean that our decisions and actions will automatically align with those ideals; history is full of manipulative, self-serving, destructive God-knowing leaders, as well as the complacent and fanatic, all full of what they consider good intentions. While a large part of our world is God-knowing, moral awareness and spiritual perception continue to play second fiddle behind technological advancement.
The Urantia Book was first published during the post-W WII period and, at the time, American spirituality emphasized the importance of sacred places, such as the home, churches, and temples. In the 1960’s, American spirituality shifted to one based on “seeking” – for sacred moments and negotiating among the many complex and confusing meanings of spirituality. History has shown that both forms of spirituality—sacred place and sacred moment – are ineffective at sustaining a society whose citizens are progressively expressing an increased capacity to love and respect one another. The former encourages dependence on communities that are inherently undependable, focusing too much energy on place rather on the full round of human needs in a complex world. The latter is too fragmented to provide the social support needed to encourage the stability and dedication to grow spiritually and maturely in character.
Practice-oriented spirituality came into being as people wanted to deepen their relationship to the sacred, inspiring a renewed commitment to social service and worship. Individuals take responsibility to spend time regularly worshiping, communing, listening and gaining knowledge of the ultimate source of sacredness in their lives. However, practicing spirituality without the expansion of meanings is like exploring new lands using old navigational charts; we may locate the coastline but fail to find the precious calm of the harbor. There must be progress in meanings in order to distinguish authentic spiritual experiences from their faux feelings of goodness and transfer our experiences of the divine into meaningful activities that truly advance the establishment of the brotherhood of man in the world.
How then can study groups of The Urantia Book help us, one person at a time, to uplift society in ways that no other generation has been able to achieve? First, study groups of The Urantia Book are not all alike. Some are animated and open to exchanging interpretations and experiences from their readings, with questions to more experienced readers from newcomers. Others have a more patented approach, reading predetermined passages without much thought of its personal application. However, the major contribution of all Urantia Book study groups is their potential to promote unity in the comprehension of God and the universe, one group at a time across the globe, through the efforts of its members to continuously discover new spiritual meanings and higher values in their spiritual experiences, intellectual assumptions, and interpretations.
The cosmic perspective presented in The Urantia Book was given to uplift all worldviews and to align actions with higher ideals. Attaining this knowledge and ability is not like going to church once a week or to Urantia meetings twice a month, feeling that you have serviced your spirituality for a while. Uplifting your worldview means engaging in a steady commitment to reconcile personal beliefs with the challenging concepts presented in The Urantia Book. The goal is to construct a new and appealing philosophy of living that will consistently attract all that is good in the mind and challenge that which is best in the human soul. This commitment is a soul-shaker, and questions arise: How open am I to objectively exploring a new concept that I may not relate to, or even one that I consider totally wrong? Am I willing to spend enough time relating these new concepts to my current knowledge so that I may ask leading questions and better understand the perspectives of others? Gaining the inclusiveness given us by epochal revelation will uplift our personal philosophy of living. As study group members grow in assimilating the depth, breadth, and accuracy of the worldview presented in The Urantia Book, a stereoscopic vision of spiritual development and the commitment to question, modify, and elevate their current approach will grow exponentially.
Second, Urantia Book study groups can provide the social support needed to encourage the members’ stability and dedication to grow spiritually (in attunement with the Indwelling Spirit) and to mature in character—essential to consistently living the religion of Jesus.
We have become experts at “spiritual bypassing —using spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs.” The Urantia Book explains that growth itself is unconscious, but we must consciously and persistently nourish the favorable conditions for growth. New meanings in spirituality invoke new habits of thinking and being; we must be willing to eliminate spiritual bypassing and move out of our comfort zones. To do the work is an ongoing effort of the heart and mind, but we will gain the “fruits of the Spirit” on our journey.
Study groups of The Urantia Book are organized to expand knowledge and understanding of the fifth epochal revelation. But this goal falls short of its potential unless members are increasingly elevating their capacity to live the life of love and service that Jesus lived; the advancement of the brotherhood of man requires the commitment of members to the intellectual, moral and spiritual work necessary. There are no short cuts or easy paths in this journey. In the short term, progress supported in the hearts and minds of every member will be reflected in our increased capacity for love, the health and growth of our organizations, and the increasing number of people drawn to the revelation. In the long term, society will reflect back to us the fruits of our joint and passionate efforts to truly live the brotherhood of man, the absolute goal expressed in the mandate given to us by the revelators.
Sheila Keene-Lund is the author of “Heaven Is Not the Last Stop” and currently serves as vice-president of Urantia Association of Florida and as Chair of the Education Committee of UA.