Virginia Beach Study Group #9 Revives Sacred Tradition
By Rev. Sharon James Fazel
It's been years, but here we are again. Doing Cayce's recommended head and neck exercises, sharing stories, taking turns reading aloud paragraphs from our study materials, and participating in a lively discussion. All of these things were part of our weekly study group meetings in Virginia Beach, Va. This had been the format for our group since the inception of Study Group #9 in 1982; it was the same format for our recent reunion in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, from August 1-4, 2012. Seven members of the original group rented a townhome together to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group's founding.
Today, none of the reunion attendees are still in Virginia Beach. The Johnsons now live in Wisconsin. The Fazels have been Minnesotans since 1989. Dave Cassel lives in northwestern Idaho, near Canada's border. And the St. Jameses (formerly the Jangls) reside on Maui in Hawaii. While we are all a long way from Virginia Beach, we have all maintained contact with A.R.E., and our Study Group has had a continuing impact on our lives.
We spent our first evening "catching up" on highlights of each other's lives since the Virginia Beach days. The next evening, we revived the Study Group meeting format which had brought us all together 30 years ago. We chose to study the chapter on Ideals, from A Search for God (ASFG), Book I. Each member read aloud from the book, pausing to discuss each segment before the next person continued reading.
Each of us had experienced a change in our ideals, and we traced the evolution of our ideals—toward something less material and more other-centered. We had raised our children, developed businesses, built homes, and pursued our own spiritual development. For nearly everyone, the shifting of responsibilities and change in lifestyle as our children became adults marked major transformations in our view of the world and our roles within it, thus impacting our ideals. All of us remain members of A.R.E. and active in the body-mind-spirit practices offered in the Cayce readings. Nearly everyone also remained active in a faith community.
Spiritual ideals are still active elements in the lives of those gathered from Study Group #9. Yet, we shared with each other our difficulties in remaining true to the highest of ideals when one stands square in the face of another who actively challenges the nature of that ideal. Thus, forgiveness also became a major theme of discussion. We found this paragraph from the ASFG lesson relevant and testified to the truth of this advice which produced intense discussion:
Let us do all that we know to do, in love, and leave the results with God. Let us hold fast to that which we have purposed in our inner selves, knowing that no emergency in a material way or manner may arise that cannot find its solution in spiritual inspiration, for His promises are sure. Offenses may arise, yet with each and every fear there is that from within which will quiet our troubled minds, even as He quelled the tempest on the sea. As we seek, we find; as we knock, we are heard. If we are timid and fearful, or overcautious in giving out the hope which has sustained us, then we grow more weak and fearful ourselves.
To close our meeting, we shared an equally powerful brief meditation. The experience for most of us was devoid of the usual distractions that first-time meditators encounter. While we have not all continued the spiritual practice of daily meditation, we had learned and practiced it together 30 years ago so our meditation was spiritually nourishing. At the conclusion, we felt refreshed, hopeful, energized yet totally at peace. (As a matter of fact, this writer felt more like myself than I have for a long time!)
Being with these same individuals again after so many years, doing something that had been so long dormant in our experience was simultaneously easy and familiar—an experience of comfort far beyond words.
So, what had changed in the last 30 years? (Other than the obvious events of childrearing, loss of parents or other loved ones, and career changes?) What had changed at the core of each of us? Mary Johnson put it succinctly: "We've grown up," she said. Indeed, our appreciation for each other and for the ideals that we all hold was deepened by a sense of having not just passed through time, but having also gained a rich respect for the depth and breadth of human experience—a resonance with a dimension wider and deeper than can be measured by skin or by kin.
And, as was always true of this group from its inception, our presence with each other naturally included unbridled laughter! This is an invaluable dimension of our friendship and fellowship, and a keystone in spiritual health that too often goes by the wayside when engaging in the seriousness of trying to make a difference in the world. By all accounts, the members of Study Group #9, founded in 1982, in Virginia Beach, Va., counted this reunion a successful and rewarding venture, well worth the planning and the investment.
Study Group #9, August, 2012 (left to right): Mark Johnson,
Mary Johnson, Alda St. James, Jim St. James, Dave Cassel,
Sharon Fazel, Chris Fazel
"Seems like we just picked up where we left off 25 years ago." (Jim [Jangl] St. James)
"The reunion was probably the highlight of 2012 for me…I want to keep in closer contact with all of you." (Dave Cassel)
"I was happy that it seemed everyone's lives had been positively influenced by our studies together." (Mark Johnson)
"It felt so natural and joyful to be with these dear friends again. The same connection that we had before, never left us!" (Alda St. James)
"The living spirit in the group – still vibrant – was real nourishment." (Chris Fazel)
Rev. Sharon James Fazel is Co-Pastor with her spouse, Rev. Christopher C Fazel, at First Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC), of Anoka, Minnesota. They have served there together since January 2, 2000.