June 29, 2017—When a winter ice storm hit Atlanta in February 2014, it wreaked havoc on the city and prompted the leadership in the Lifelong Learning program to cancel a class on Hildegard of Bingen scheduled for that very week – a class I was registered to take. I scrambled to find another class that semester so I could stay on my self-imposed timeline of completing the Certificate in Spiritual Formation in three years. I landed in Jane Vennard’s class despite my hesitations. Teaching Spiritual Formation in the Congregation didn’t sound like a class that would benefit me. Turns out, Jane’s class was exactly the class I needed to take.
Our week together began with her speaking words of blessing over us. You already know so much, she assured us. Her gentle way of guiding led us to embrace that truth. Her invitations to share an experience when . . . were reminders that it’s not about being an expert. As she demonstrated, it’s about discovering a passion for sharing and cultivating space for growth. We know and we don’t know; we can share it all. She assured us that “when we teach from our own experiences – drawing on our difficulties and delights, our doubts as well as our faith – we engage the heart as well as the mind in the teaching and learning process.”
I still linger over Jane’s wise words about silence and the gift of deep listening. It was the root of all that we did together that week. As we explored ways to nurture ourselves and others in communal practices of worship, study and service, it was all wrapped in the sacred art of listening with an open heart. The body prayer she guided us in one morning continues to do its healing work on me. Revisiting that experience reminds me to release my cares and concerns into the arms of the Loving One who calls me beloved.
When Jane read a passage of scripture one afternoon, she invited us to use our bodies to give the words flesh. Watching a small group of folks physically interpret one phrase breathed life into those holy words. Her lessons on incarnation and connecting to the wisdom of our bodies continue to nudge me to explore other ways to embrace our bodies in soul care. “Our bodies help us know that God is as close and as necessary as our every breath.”
Parker Palmer describes a very good teacher as having a very good learner inside. Jane is a gifted instructor who dances with ease and grace between teacher and learner. She listens as much as she shares; she receives as much as she gives. She draws from her own experiences and weaves in those shared by participants in her classes. Jane nurtures a loving and safe community within the classroom, modeling the kind of learning community that we desire to shape within our congregations. She creates a space that is enlivened by the Spirit and a way of being together that engages the heart and mind.
When I arrived in Decatur for Jane’s class, I was carrying the seeds of a new calling within me; seeds that were watered that week. The winter storm that disrupted my well-planned path, blew me in a direction that was sprinkled with delightful surprises and invitations. I began discovering the endless possibilities available by tapping into my unique gifts and passion for journeying with others on the spiritual path.
Monica Citty Hix currently serves as the Minister of Music at First Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC. She is also the founder of Inner Ground, a recently formed local non-profit whose mission is to nourish the human heart and spirit through contemplative practices and expressive arts. Follow Inner Ground on Facebook and Instagram. Earlier this year, Monica completed the Certificate in Spiritual Formation. She’s married to her college sweetheart, Phil, who shares her love of travel and dark chocolate
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 Jane E. Vennard. A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Formation (Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2005), 103.
 Ibid., 44.