Peace Circles

RM asks: “Can you tell me what you know and think about “Peace Circles”?  Everything I am finding looks to be a very feminist-based program (and not of the true feminism that John Paul II promoted).  When reading what I have found (by googling “peace circles”), some of it sounds on the “up and up”.  Who doesn’t want peace? But the program is being incorporated in my daughter’s high school French III class with no connection to French at all. We have met with the teacher and administration about our dislikes of the use of this in the classroom, and met head to head with much opposition. Every one of them lauded the use of Peace Circles. Our daughter has not been comfortable with the use of the peace circle especially because of the use of the lit candle, rain stick, rock and ‘talking piece’. Your insight into this matter is greatly appreciated.”

Your daughter’s spiritual instincts are well-honed. These circles are very problematic. Not only are they derived from indigenous pagan practices, but they’re being used for everything from facilitating respectful communication to discovering a “place of mystery from which synchronicity, magic and healing arise.”

According to the New England Literary Resource Center, “Peace circles draw directly from the tradition of the talking circle, common even today among indigenous people of North America. . . . The concept of a peace circle draws on the Native or First People’s concept of the medicine wheel. The medicine wheel reflects natural phenomena that occur in fours; for example, seasons, phases of the moon, and stages of life. The peace circle aims to promote a balanced approach to individual and community health with an equal emphasis on mental, physical, emotional and spiritual growth and well-being. The assumption is that if any one of the four components is neglected or violated the individual will be out of balance, and not “in a good way” with herself or her family and community.”( http://www.nelrc.org/practice/peacecircles.html)

They go on to say that these circles are being used in the criminal justice system, education, human service organizations “and others interested in alternative processes for conflict resolution, decision making, community building, healing and support. . . . The goal is to promote healing, harmony and a sense of connectedness. ”

The way the circle works is described by Mark Umbreit of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. A group sits in a circle and a facilitator manages the conversation by the passing of a “talking peace” – an object that has special meaning  to the circle facilitator, who is referred to as the “circle keeper”. After opening comments about the purpose of the circle, the keeper says a few things about the talking piece, than passes it to the person to his or her left. Only the person with the talking piece can speak. If others jump in with comments, they are reminded of the rules. No one has to speak if they don’t want to because this would cause “pressure” in the circle. If a person doesn’t want to speak, they simply pass the talking piece to the next person.

Umbreit credits feminist author Christina Baldwin (Calling the Circle, The First and Future Culture) as being one of the people responsible for introducing the circle into modern use. 

However, I found her name linked with a very disturbing set of guidelines for the circle’s use which incorporates New Age concepts as well as the occult. (http://www.ca4women.org/circles.html)

“The center is the heart of the circle. This is where the group mind and the group spirit reside. Set a table for them here – offer light, flowers, incense or whatever beautiful thing you might think of. You may add to this altar something that represents you – an item you bring specifically for this purpose or something of the moment – a piece of jewelry, scarf, photo from your wallet, etc.”

The Guidelines go on to describe the center as representing the hearth or the fire pit around which humankind has gathered in a circle for hundreds of thousands of years. A candle placed in the middle represents life-giving fire, warmth, safety, home.

“The center acts as a filter for what is spoken. We do not address a specific person when we speak from our hearts. We speak to the center, to the group mind and spirit. The center receives our words and allows them to pass through blessed and enhanced by Spirit.

“The center is the open vessel waiting to receive. It is a dancing floor, a threshing floor, a stage, a portal, all open and waiting for whatever might manifest. This is the place of mystery from which synchronicity, magic and healing arise.”

The “center” in this description is clearly given magical powers that are “blessed and enhanced” by another power named only as Spirit. What is this power and where does it come from? And why are we building altars to a “group spirit”? 

Needless to say, there are many potential problems with the unsupervised use of circles in schools. While no one can argue with the promotion of more effective communication, facilitators can easily infuse this group session with pagan practices and rituals that are not compatible with Christianity.  Judging by RM’s description of the lit candles, which upset her daughter, I suspect there is much more to the circle being conducted in her classroom than teaching people how to wait their turn before speaking.

If you’re getting resistance from the school, write a letter to the superintendent of schools. Explain how upset your daughter was with the circle and ask him or her why the Native American roots of this practice are not being fully disclosed to students so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to participate. Students should be informed that if the circle facilitators are using candles or other objects to build altars of worship to “group spirits” or any “Spirit” or power other than God, this is a violation of the First Commandment. 

Because of the religious overtures in the use of peace circles, you have every right to insist that the school respect the “separation of church and state” and stop introducing children to pagan practices under the guise of learning how to communicate better.

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