Sunday, March 15, 2009

sense making faith as a great missional resource

Sense Making Faith. Body Spirit Journey is one of the best missional resources I’ve come across in recent years. If asked to explain it in one sentence, I’d call it an Alpha course using the senses, not the intellect. And since God made us whole bodies, Sense making faith is thus a great gift to the church.

I ran the course twice last year, once at Opawa for about 15 people with a range of faith experiences, and once with a local community group working with mental illness. Both time I was astonished at the ability of the course to open conversations, to connect with those inside and outside the church and to enrich people’s lives. The open-ended exercises allowed each group to find a life of their own.

The highlight for me is week one, which introduces the course by inviting people to wonder. One of the exercises involves spreading photos around the room and inviting participants to take the one that most catches their attention. Three simple questions become quite transformative: What caught your attention? What caught the attention of the photographer? How does looking at this make you feel? In so doing, participants are introduced to the heart of the spiritual search: to notice the beauty that surrounds us. And so our eyes, ears, noses, skin and mouths are in fact the gateway by which we can be struck, aroused, challenged by God. This is not an intellect pursuit, but a embodied engagement with the God of life.

Sense making faith originated in the UK. During Lent 09, the BBC are using it as a Lenten resource. A supporting website is here

It’s not a perfect course. The book seems to suffer from an internal conflict. Having started with the challenge to wonder, the book then devotes considerable time and attention to critiquing current church practice, and the lack of attention to the senses in churches today. While the criticism is valid, it turns the initial “hermeneutic of wonder” into a hermeneutic of critique. It also tends to push the resource toward being of more use to those who enter churches, which is a shame. However, this is where the extensive appendix becomes really useful, providing lots of exercises that in fact allow the book to recapture it’s original ethos, a journey of sense making faith. Essentially I bypassed the main material, and simply used the exercises as springboard into shared group learning experiences.

If you’re looking to engage with spiritual seekers, Sense Making Faith is one of the best resources I’ve found. I’m planning to run another course later this year and hoping that this might be a stepping stone to a new congregation, probably based more on monthly retreat days than weekly church services. This is because the course covers 7 weeks (introduction: sight : sound : smell : taste : touch : imagination) and thus it offers a framework through which to keep gathering, not around content, but around what each participant is learning as they simply pay attention to their senses in the journey of life.

Posted by steve at 11:03 PM

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