Each Wednesday, I meet with a small group of fellow university students for a peer-led Bible study at the USC Catholic Center. Each week has a similar layout in terms of procedure, although in this particular meeting, the primary topic was centered and prayer for the recent passing of a close friend and classmate. Because her death greatly affected many of my fellow classmates (and needless to say, her family, who I also knew), much of the prayers given were subsequently aimed in consideration of these others.
The following frames the course of a typical Bible-study meeting procedure, although in the case of an exceptional incident:
The same eight members of the study meet in the same room, a quiet second-floor conference area, each week beginning at 6:50 p.m., and lasting for around 45 minutes to an hour. Our study’s leader, Javier, had brought me into the group the preceding year. He starts the session having already brought a dealing of snack foods (Oreos, chips & dip, etc.), seating the members around a circular table.
The meeting is formally started with the members bowing their heads, crossing their hearts, and reciting in unison the ‘Hail Mary’ traditional catholic prayer, which goes as follows:
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Each member then goes one-by-one relaying their personal ‘highs and lows’ since the last meeting, followed by an ‘coming to God moment,’ meant to illustrate an incidence or realization of spirituality and faith.
At this point in the meeting, the leader then transitions to a pre-selected lesson, involving the reading of a particular passage of scripture that exemplifies the day’s lesson, followed by a group discussion of what in the passage stood out during the reading, what conclusions they have drawn, or otherwise. This day’s topic involved a passage from the book of Philippians (2: 5-8), that highlights the humbled passage of Jesus through the realm of man by taking on the form of a man himself.
Two smaller, supplementary readings are typically held that reinforce the day’s lesson. However, the leader took the opportunity to discuss the topic of my passed friend, which I had disclosed to him earlier. The group then held a loose discussion of life and death from their various points of view.
Each meeting is subsequently closed with an extended prayer from the leader himself. He took the opportunity to center it exclusively on the topic of the passed friend.
While the circumstances did not figure appropriate to record the prayer in its entirety, the leader’s points of acknowledgment and hearkening to God included my own emotional health, that of the deceased parents and her friends/classmates at school, as well as for potential victims of suicide (given that these were the circumstances under which she passed).
Perhaps the most important aspect of this particular meeting to analyze is the adaptation of a group’s normal schedule to briefly accommodate and address a member’s trying circumstances. In this case, it was to provide a sense of comfort and counsel by means of spirituality, along with the personalization of holding it among people familiar with each other.
The leader’s extended prayer stood out to me the most, for unlike the established prayer recited at the start of each meeting, this prayer was devised entirely in the moment, lasting for a total of five uninterrupted minutes devoid of ‘ums’ or silences in thought.
A small, but important point that can also be acknowledged in the general scheme of the meetings is the inclusion of snacks as an attracting factor. By providing food, the study leader is able to provide an incentive for members to arrive and enjoy treats, but also to keep hands and minds from wandering or growing idle during/in between each topic of study.