I know, all the church needs is another committee and another meeting to attend. That is my general sentiment as well, but there is one committee lacking in most congregations that is worth considering…..a Clearness Committee. A Clearness Committee is designed to provide a spiritual community approach to personal discernment, and comes from the Quaker tradition. The Clearness Committee approach was developed because the Quakers needed a way to draw on both inner and community resources to deal with personal problems because they had no clerical leaders to “solve” their problems for them.
At one time or another most of us will wrestle with a personal problem, question, or decision. If you have been around long enough you are well aware of the limitations of trying to address these issues on your own. Yet, on the other hand, we fear exposing our problems to others and running the risk of confusing and contradicting advice, false judgements, and breach of confidentiality. So, at these moments in our lives, when we could use all the help we can find, we alienate ourselves from the support of our faith community.
A premise of a Clearness Committee is that each of us has the Holy Spirit guided inner resources to resolve our issues, but access to this inner voice can be blocked or confused by years of accrued knowledge, experience, attitudes, and advice. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give outside-in advice, but rather to help people through powerful questions remove the interference so that they can access their own spirit inspired wisdom from the inside-out.
The Clearness Committee’s process is guided by several crucial rules and agreements.
- Confidentiality is a must. When the meeting is over, committee members will not speak with others about what was said and will not speak with the focus person about the problem unless he or she requests.
- No advice, opinions, recommendations, sharing of personal experience, or psychoanalysis. The committee’s job is not to solve the problem, define truth, or “fix” the focus person. Avoid statements and questions like:
- That happened to me one time and this is how I responded.
- I know a therapist that might help you a lot.
- Didn’t that make you feel angry?
- Ask simple open questions about both feelings and facts that allow the focus person to access their own inner spirit voice and wisdom. Examples include:
- How did you feel when that happened?
- Have you ever felt that way before?
- What did you mean when you said……..?
- Avoid leading questions, such as:
- Have you ever read the book……?
- Have you ever considered your father might be at fault?
- Why don’t you…….?
- Avoid rapid fire questions that come across as a grilling, cross-examination, or inquisition that leaves the focus person feeling attacked. Create a relaxed and gentle atmosphere.
- The focus person’s answers should generate more and deeper questions from the committee.
- The focus person always has the right to not answer a question.
- Allow for times of extended silence, creating space for the focus person to process, reflect, and access their inner spiritual truth.
- No socializing, but rather be present and attentive to the needs of the focus person, and not your own agenda.
- Follow the questioning time with a time of “mirroring,” where committee members mirror back what they heard the focus person say. Give the focus person an opportunity to affirm or correct those impressions.
- Close the meeting with each committee member affirming and encouraging the focus person.
In most cases, the clearness process will continue for the focus person well after the meeting ends as they continue to reflect on the questions they were asked. The committee’s role is to continue to holding the focus person up in prayer.
Parker Palmer says, “The Clearness Committee approach is not appropriate in all situations. But for the right person, with the right issue, it is a powerful way to rally the strength of community around a struggling soul, to draw deeply from the wisdom within all of us. It teaches us to abandon the pretense that we know what is best for another person and instead to ask those honest and open questions that can help that person find his or her own answers. It teaches us to give up the arrogant assumption that we are obliged to “save” each other and learn, through simple listening, to create the conditions that allow a person to find his or her wholeness within. The Clearness Committee is testimony to the fact that there are no external authorities on life’s deepest issues, not clergy or therapists or scholars; there is only the authority that lies within each of us waiting to be heard.”
If the spiritual discipline behind the Clearness Committee is understood and practiced, the process can become a way to create space for the Holy Spirit to move among us with healing and with power.
RESOURCE: If who wish to learn more on how to use the Clearness Committee approach, read Chapter VIII, “Living the Questions,” in Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2009). There you will find detailed, step-by-step guidance, as well as a DVD of the author teaching the process to a group.
Posted on February 26, 2019