I am flattened by how helpless I have felt by the isolation and suffering uncovered, highlighted, and underscored in these past few COVID and violence saturated years. God bless the wise ones – Brené Brown, Bishop Curry, Richard Rohr, Kate Bowler, and my spiritual director to name a few – who encourage us to do what we can with the gifts that we have in this particular moment. It is in this spirit that I offer to you a humble ritual called the Wondering Together Project.
What Is The Wondering Together Project?
The Wondering Together Project (“WTP”) is a simple, short daily practice for households to connect, to hear a little bit about one another’s day, and to be held and loved in their sharing. I offer it because we need more tools to share with the folks that we serve; tools that help each of us live into our call to be Jesus’ hands and heart to one another and to demonstrate with our listening that “you matter!”
I developed this project as part of my Doctor of Ministry work through Eden Seminary. My original research included eleven households. The make-up of households varied – young couples, adults with young children, couples with adult children. Each household used the WTP daily for one month.
How Does It Work?
Carve out 10 minutes (it may take a little less … or a little more) each day. Gather in a place and a way that fits into your life (at a table, on a daily walk, getting ready for bed, driving to school). Try to use the same space and time of day once you find what works well for you all. Have the wondering questions printed. (For families in the original research, they were printed on stone coasters through a pharmacy photo department and served as a literal touchstone.)
Set aside any “digital distractions” so that these ten minutes together are peaceful, and you can really listen to each other. Some families light a candle, dim the lights, or do something else to make this short time together feel special, but you don’t have to!
One family member asks the first question of your Wondering Together stone or printed card. If it works, take turns leading the questions each day as it underscores the agency of each household member, especially the youngest.
Ask Each Other The Wondering Questions
1. “I wonder what part of today you liked the best?” Some may have just a word or two to share while others may tell a short story. Just listen to one another. Everyone always has the right to pass.
2. When everyone has answered the first question, the second one is asked: “I wonder what part of today was the most important part?” Allow everyone to answer with a phrase or a short story.
3. Then go onto the third question, “I wonder when you felt most alive today?” (An alternate question for families with younger children might be “I wonder when you had the most energy today?”)
4. The fourth question, “I wonder what part of today you would have liked to leave out?” This may feel like a challenging question for some. By ritually asking it, we normalize and model how to talk about the hard things we encounter each day.
5. The last question is, “I wonder how you are feeling in this moment?”
End In Gratitude
When all have finished answering the fifth question, close your Wondering Together time by thanking one another. You could bow to each other silently, high five each other, blow out a candle if you lit one, or share a hug. One family closed with a ceremonial “dab!”
This Feels Familiar…
… because it is the synergy of key practices that have served us well in ministry and pastoral care. Maybe you recognize Ignatian discernment; this is a daily examen of sorts for a gathered group looking to distill what their day may reveal to them.
The ritual aspect is apparent too. We know that rituals “entrain” lifelong reflective practices. In those rituals, God or our own deep wisdom are revealed in that still small voice. Neurobiologically, repetition and ritual help our brains expand their moral and ethical decision-making capacities. The gift of narrative – to share a bit of one’s own story as well as to hold that of another – is embedded in the Wondering Together Project as well.
Finally, the first four wondering questions are from the Godly Play® sacred story tradition of theological reflection. Godly Play practitioners will affirm that these questions in this order are unique in their ability to distill deep insights. The fifth question is known as affect naming. Many educators offer children this pause and practice technique – naming the feeling, tames the feeling.
Creative Uses for The Wondering Together Project
One church used it as their Lenten practice while another is offering it to their 30 families as a summer-time opportunity for connection. One retirement community paired isolated elders together during the pandemic and had them wonder together by telephone each evening. I even know of one book club using it as the format for their book discussion!
Learnings From The Research
The Wondering Together Project began as an idea that pushed me towards ethnographic research with eleven families for a month-long research period. Those results were compelling. For example, every family planned to continue wondering together after the four weeks ended. Often to their parents’ surprise, the teens and tweens all expressed a hope that this practice was the ‘new normal’ for their families when we met for a closing interview.
Three of the children in the research cohort told me stories of how they woke their parents up or wouldn’t go to bed until they “wondered together” if the practice had been overlooked on a busy day. One dad who attended night school on Zoom happily turned off his camera and muted himself on two occasions so he could join his wife and five-year-old in wondering together.
More details on the research and how you might use it or contribute to it may be found here.
Here’s a final thought from a 12-year-old participant:
“It’s really nice to do it at the end of the day before you go to bed. Because then you have, like, like if you ask a question, like ‘what would you like to leave it out of your day?’ It’s good to kind of like get that off your chest and then it’s easier to go to sleep for me.”
I wonder what the world might be like if more of us, especially our children, felt safe enough to name their worries and then lay them down before they sleep.
 Lime Green Final Zoom Interview, April 7, 2021, at 3 min., 30 sec.