The Process movement is a network of people around the world who want to make a constructive difference in the world. They include farmers, artists, business persons, government officials, philosophers, sociologists, educators, grandmothers, social workers, musicians, and poets. Some are religious and some are not; but all are hopeful.
Those who are religious include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Daoists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Unitarian Universalists. These traditions are very important to them, and they weave a process outlook on life onto, and with help from, their spiritual lineages.
Nevertheless some people in the process network are spiritually interested but not religiously affiliated. Indeed, for many, including those who enjoy a sense of religious belonging, the topic of "religion" is not as important to them as are many other topics facing humanity, other animals, local communities, and the Earth today.
So what do they have in common? They share four hopes that animate their actions in local communities and the broader world.
Whole Persons. They work to help individuals around the world grow in personal wholeness and spiritual vitality (e.g. creativity, beauty, love, forgiveness, faith, playfulness, gratitude, listening, and a sense of wonder)
Compassionate Communities: They help build compassionate communities that are creative, caring, participatory, diverse, inclusive, good for animals and good for the Earth: with no one left behind.
A Flourishing Planet: They work to help the planet as a whole flourish with its many forms of life. Toward this end they encourage "world loyalty" as well as "local loyalty," encouraging people to think of the Earth as a whole as an Earth Community deserving respect and care. This hope lies behind their commitment to "ecological civilizations." Holistic Thinking. They encourage holistic ways of thinking - drawing from science, art, philosophy, and spirituality - that help people live with respect and care for the Earth community, enjoy meaningful bonds in local settings, and find personal happiness.
For process thinkers there are many obstacles to these hopes. Examples include (1) the excessive individualism of western modernity and consumer culture, (2) a mechanistic understanding of the world that reduces all things to inert objects in space, (3) the failure of higher education to address serious problems of the world, and (4) the failure of religious education as a whole to help people become whole persons in whole communities.
Some process thinkers believe that the world is headed toward catastrophe: global climate change, chronic economic inequities, animosities between nations, and political dysfunction, The four hopes are not just icing on a cake. They are necessary for survival.
Many process thinkers take the philosophy of the late mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, as an alternative to hyper-individualism and mechanism and believe that his "philosophy of organism" is the kind of holistic thinking sorely needed. It emphasizes an organic approach to the world that unites insights from science, art, and spirituality: the universe is enfolded in a network of mutual becoming; there is something like creativity all the way into the depths of matter; all living beings have intrinsic value worthy of respect and care; the future is open and undetermined, even for God; God is not a bully in the sky but rather a loving presence or energy in which the universe unfolds; the telos of the universe is Beauty, of which love is a supreme form in human life; and our calling in life is to live with respect and care for all life, with special concern for the vulnerable. See Twenty Key Ideas of Process Thought for more.
The question is: How do you teach the Four Hopes of Process Thought Discussion Groups, either online or face-to-face. The Rev. Jennifer Zechlin offers a template.
- Jay McDaniel, 11/5/22
The Four Hopes of Process Thought and Theology
A community class and discussion group template with suggested activities Zoom and Small Group Friendly Developed by Rev. Jennifer Zechlin
*All musical selections, poetry, and activities for reflection are merely suggestions. Feel free to use them as suggested or find something that will be more appropriate to your group.
Session 1: Introduction to Class
Introduction of class facilitators
Explain that the class will be a combination of shared learning and discussion with weekly assignments for reflection.
Go over various resources used in class. Nothing required for participants to purchase but suggestions will be gladly offered if anyone desires further learning opportunities.
A note about art. Creativity is a foundational element of process thought and therefore different forms, including poetry, visual art, and music may be utilized in class or be included in weekly assignments.
Pause and ask class if anyone has any questions or comments about the class format.
What is Process Thought and Theology? Process Thought is a way of seeing the world, and all of the cosmos, as both intertwined and interdependent. There is nothing from the smallest atomic particle to the highest order mammal that is not affected by the parts of the whole. All things are “becoming” even as they are “being” in any - and every – moment. Process Theology naturally developed from Process Thought to say that there is a love that acts as a lure in all of creation. Process Christians and Jews would call this love God but other faith traditions might have other names or none at all. For this class I will use the name God to describe this radical love.
Explain that this class will have a narrow focus shadowed by the wide background of Process Thought and Theology.
Class goals from facilitator’s perspective: My hope for this class is that participants will gain a basic understanding of what the four hopes of the process movement are and be encouraged participate in these hopes in both personal and communal ways.
Class hopes for participant’s perspective: Ask what students hope to gain from this class.
Assignment for reflection: Watch or listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRxofEmo3HA Are there ways Vivaldi’s concertos can remind you of the four hopes? Which season matches best with which hope and why?
Closing: Thank class and remind them that next week we will be exploring the first hope; Whole Persons. Read The Invitation by Mary Oliver.
Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy and very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles for a musical battle, to see who can sing the highest note, or the lowest, or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender? Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air as they strive melodiously not for your sake and not for mine and not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude – believe us, they say, it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. I beg of you, do not walk by without pausing to attend to this rather ridiculous performance. It could mean something. It could mean everything. It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote: You must change your life.
Session 2: Whole Persons; Personal Wholeness and Spiritual Vitality
Welcome students back and give 5 – 10 minutes for reflection of session one’s assignment.
What is spiritual vitality? Creativity A sense of beauty Love Forgiveness Faith Playfulness Gratitude Listening A sense of wonder Are there others you can think of?
The hope for whole persons is not exclusive to any faith tradition or any at all but is informed by one’s faith and is complimentary to it.
Read section, Individual Practices: Personal Well-Being and Spiritual Health on pg’s 60-61 of What is Process Thought? By Jay McDaniel. ISBN 194044750X
Open Discussion: What personal practices support your own wholeness and spiritual vitality?
Assignment for reflection: Find a piece of artwork - or create one – this week that depicts your idea of personal wholeness and spiritual vitality. Next week there will be a time for sharing if you would like to gift the group with your findings.
Closing: Thank class and remind them that next week we will be exploring the second hope; Whole Communities. Read O Me! O Life! By Walt Whitman.
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring, Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish, Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d, Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me, Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined, The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists and identity, That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Session 3: Whole Communities; Circles of Community
Welcome students back and give 5 – 10 minutes for reflection of session two’s assignment.
What are some of the hallmarks of whole communities? Just and sustainable Circles of community moving from family life, to friends and acquaintances, to strangers, to animals, and earth
Read first paragraph of section, Shared Ritual: Community Practices for Sustainable Community on pg’s 61-62 and the bottom two paragraphs on pg’s. 63-64 of What is Process Thought?
Open Discussion: What are some of the ways you help to build whole communities? What lures you into action?
Acts of service and community involvement also support the building of whole persons as does communal ritual. Which of these have you found helpful in your journey to wholeness? How does active participation in the first hope support the second hope and vise-versa?
Assignment for reflection: In what ways do you participate in community building? Try to identify ways you participate on multiple levels (Human, Ecological, Creative, etc.). Next week there will be a time for sharing if you would like to gift the group with your findings.
Closing: Thank class and remind them that next week we will be exploring the third hope; Whole Planet. Read The Larger Circle by Wendell Berry
We clasp the hands of those that go before us, And the hands of those who come after us. We enter the little circle of each other’s arms And the larger circle of lovers, Whose hands are joined in a dance And the larger circle of all creatures Passing in and out of life Who move also in a dance To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it Except in fragments.
Session 4: Whole Planet
Welcome students back and give 5 – 10 minutes for reflection of session three’s assignment.
A Whole Planet is an extension of Whole Communities
Beyond just our planet; the entire universe is a living entity with value
Process Thought asks that we be as loyal to the Earth as we are loyal to our local communities.
Respect and care for all
Introduce Earth Charter International - Earthcharter.org
Explain that The Earth Charter is a document with 16 Principles powering a global movement.
Explain that it begins with a preamble and then organizes the 16 principles into 4 pillars. Read the preamble to the class.
Open Discussion: What are your thoughts after hearing the preamble? Do you feel hopeful, discouraged, overwhelmed?
Assignment for reflection: Read The Earth Charter this week. How do you think the relational aspects of Process Thought and Theology can enhance the 16 principles outlined in the charter? Note your thoughts in order to share with the group next week if you desire.
Closing: Thank class and remind them that next week we will be exploring the fourth hope; Holistic Thinking. Read Watering the Stones by Mary Oliver
Every summer I gather a few stones from the beach and keep them in a glass bowl. Now and again I cover them with water, and they drink. There’s no question about this; I put tinfoil over the bowl, tightly, yet the water disappears. This doesn’t mean we ever have a conversation, or that they have the kind of feelings we do, yet it might mean something. Whatever the stones are, they don’t lie in the water and do nothing. Some of my friends refuse to believe it happens, even though they’ve seen it. But a few others—I’ve seen them walking down the beach holding a few stones, and they look at them rather more closely now. Once in a while, I swear, I’ve even heard one or two of them saying “Hello.” Which, I think, does no harm to anyone or anything, does it?
Session 5: Holistic Thinking
Welcome students back and give 5 – 10 minutes for reflection of session four’s assignment.
Holistic thinking is a way of understanding the world by synthesizing insights from science, the arts, spirituality, and ethics.
It recognizes that the universe is more of an organism than a machine, that there is nothing lifeless. All things have a creative energy and its own creativity.
Holistic thinking understands that relations are internal to the beings at issue, not external.
Process thought sees the world as in process, filled with relationality, and “alive” and its depths.
Process theology also includes the unique way of thinking about God as a force that’s in process too.
Open Discussion: In what areas do you see your thinking life drawing upon? Do you feel a synthesis of different areas of thought? If so, how do you feel this expands your ability to view the world creatively?
Assignment for reflection: Put together a jigsaw puzzle this week. If you don’t have a puzzle, consider downloading a free puzzle app to your phone or computer. As you work on it, reflect on each piece a different area of thought coming together to create the picture’s fullness. Be aware of how you work your puzzle – do you connect all your edges pieces first? Or, perhaps you work in clusters. How is this similar or dissimilar to how you synthesize insights you encounter? Imagine getting done and finding you have a single missing piece – are you able to leave your puzzle “in process” comfortably? Note your thoughts in order to share with the group next week if you desire.
Closing: Thank class and remind them that next week is our last session; we will discuss some of the obstacles. Read The Brain is Wider Than the Sky by Emily Dickinson
The Brain — is wider than the Sky -- For — put them side by side -- The one the other will contain With ease — and You — beside --
The Brain is deeper than the sea -- For — hold them — Blue to Blue -- The one the other will absorb -- As Sponges — Buckets — do --
The Brain is just the weight of God -- For — Heft them — Pound for Pound -- And they will differ — if they do -- As Syllable from Sound --
Session 6: Obstacles to the Four Hopes of Process Thought and Theology
Welcome students back and give 5 – 10 minutes for reflection of session Five’s assignment.
Review the obstacles as outlined in The Four Hopes slideshow
Open Discussion: Which of these obstacles do you struggle with? Are there other obstacles you can identify?
Overcoming these obstacles -
Read excerpts from, “Process Theology” by C. Robert Mesle, ISBN 0827229453, pg’s 94-97
“Inspired by reflection on the concept of beauty, process thinkers reject the idea that there is only one form of goodness (except perhaps in highly abstract terms).
Just as there is no one right way to create beauty, there is no single right way for a person to live. We might abstractly say, “Have a rich and loving life!” but there are many ways to love richly and lovingly. Indeed, we positively need people to live in different ways. We would not want everyone to become a physician or a carpenter, or a farmer. We need and are enriched by the diversity of human life. Translating the abstract commandment “Love!” into concrete actions demands a world of novelty, creativity, diversity, and adventure.
As the world grows smaller with improves communications and faster travel, the challenge of pluralistic living becomes more vital.
Here we must return to the theme of relational power. Relational power is the ability to be responsive to a wide range of friendships – of ideas, values, feelings, people, etc. – to create ourselves out of these diverse relationships, and to affect others by having first been affected by them.
Other people become a part of us. The question is whether we will embrace or resist that reality.”
Open Discussion: Can you identify other ways to overcome your own obstacles to the Hopes of Process Thought and Theology? (be prepared to read additional excepts form pg. 97 if the class heads that direction)
Closing: Thank class for their participation and let them know that a brief survey will be sent to their emails which will help to shape other possible classes on Process Thought and Theology topics. Let students know that a resource guide can also be sent, upon request. Read In the World by Brigid Lowry.
in the strange early morning half light we sit in the cloudiness of our questioning we sit in our madness and our clarity we sit in the midst of too much to do we sit in the warm arms of our shared sorrow we sit in community and in loneliness we sit in sweet exhaustion we sit in the blazing energy of being alive we sit
here with the singing crickets here with each electric birdsong here with the rippling of breezes and the dry grasses here with the cobwebs and the clouds and the dusty road upon us
us in the sound and the sound in us
us in the world and the world in us
Core Leadership Team, The P&F. “Images Found in Process & Faith 2.0.” Process Perspectives, vol. 43, no. 1, 2022, https://ctr4process.org/our-work/publications/. Accessed 10 Oct. 2022. Artists and Composers, Various. “All Music Selections Used in Course.” YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/. McDaniel, Jay B. What Is Process Thought?: Seven Answers to Seven Questions. Process Century Press, 2021. McDaniel, Jay. “A Process Worldview.” The Educator's Toolbox, The Cobb Institute, https://cobb.institute/educators-toolbox/. McDaniel, Jay. “Four Hopes of the Process Movement.” The Educator's Toolbox, Cobb Institute, https://cobb.institute/educators-toolbox/. Mesle, C. Robert. Process Theology a Basic Introduction. Chalice Pr, 1993. Oliver, Mary, et al. “Various Works.” Poetry.com, https://www.poetry.com/. Oord, Thomas Jay. What Is Open and Relational Theology?YouTube, 15 Oct. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwtRTF6t6_A&t=2s. Accessed 9 Oct. 2022.