In my spiritual formation classes and retreats I do the following, methodically:
- Send participants alone to pray, using Ps. 23. The assignment is: When God speaks to you, write it down.
- Assemble participants in small groups to share with one another, with the guiding question being: During your hour of prayer, what did God say to you? Someone takes notes of the sharing.
- In our large group the note-takers share what God said to the people in their small group. After the note-takers share, I teach, coach, and discern the movements of the Spirit.
- I then teach the large group, sharing my phenomenology of spiritual formation, transformation, restoration, and renewal.
Then, after a sufficient break for lunch or dinner, we do #s 1-4 again.
If we have more time, such as a 5-day seminary class, we do these four things again and again.
This creates a dialectical movement (which means a progressive, back-and-forth movement) from solitude to community and back to solitude and then community, over and over. This environment cultivates movement of God's Spirit.
Both solitude and community are needed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his famous book Life Together, writes:
"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely with the call of Jesus Christ."
= Bonhoeffer, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship, 77-78