The Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies: The Talking Circle

Last night, I had a dream that reminded of a central element in the “way” that we do learning at the Institute Of Contemporary & Emerging Worship Studies and St. Stephen’s University.

Our Two Week Intensive In Worship Studies & Spiritual Formation is based on the principles I’ll outline here, and is coming up April 23-May 4 (applications due right away due to space at the roundtable).


Talking circles are a tradition of group communication and listening that are used in many indigenous groups (such as the Native American cultures, and by the Passamaquoddy (which means “People Of The Dawn”) in our area). Based on a circular, face to face conversation, every person has a chance to speak their perspective on the issue at hand.

While we don’t use the talking stick (giving the person the floor as it is passed to them), we create an environment at SSU in many of our classes that allows each singular, even marginal, voice to be heard in our Three Voice Learning forums. Good friend Nathan Rieger and the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard use this model of conversation in many of their dealings in the community.


Last night, my dream was of a circle of friends, gathered to learn from one another, in a circle much like we create in our Vineyard Canada national gatherings or at the university. Then, each person began to speak.

As they did, their voice took on a physical presence; small, glowing, three dimensional clouds carrying the width of experience, the height of maturation and the depth of wisdom. As the small clouds rose, about 50 small points of light shimmered in each small, spherical cloud, and thin bands of light began to connect across the clouds of the conversations by the hundreds.

Soon, three dimensional clouds were lofting into the space between the circled people in the 10’s and 20’s from each person, filling the room, and creating a web of light to which all were contributing. It was quite beautiful, actually.

The non-Western born talking circle concept gets my vote as a practice that brings a dignity of human-ness, and humanity, to the fore.

Note: For me, as always, this concept lives and breathes because of the doctrine of the imago Dei, our origins narrative in Judaeo-Christianity, that narrates for us the reality that human beings were born in glory and dignity, are fallen and broken due to our choice to turn from the circle of Trinitarian invitation with God, and have been redeemed through a new Adam (meaning “mankind,”), Jesus, the Christ.


Sheltering Mercy and Endless Grace help us rediscover the rich treasures of the Psalms—through free-verse prayer renderings of their poems and hymns—as a guide to personal devotion and meditation. Sheltering Mercy helps the reader pray Psalms 1-75; Endless Grace leads in prayer through Psalms 76-150.

The church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, and they have inspired countless other prayers. Each book contains 75 prayers drawn from the Book of Psalms, providing lyrical sketches of what authors Ryan Smith and Dan Wilt have seen, heard, and felt while sojourning there. Each prayer is a response to the Psalms written in harmony with Scripture. These prayers help us quiet our hearts before God and welcome us into a safe place amid the storms of life.

These artful, poetic, and classic devotional books are a perfect gift, and feature compelling stunning illustrations and hardcover binding, offering a fresh way to reflect on and pray the Psalms. Co-written with Ryan Whitaker Smith, Brazos Publishing.

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