It begins with a small group of people—Jews, Christians, and Muslims gathered around a table, sometimes with a few religiously unaffiliated but curious friends.

A group facilitator passes around copies of a text bundle—three short passages on a common theme, chosen by the group ahead of time, with one passage each from the Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur’an.

The facilitator briefly reminds participants of the guidelines for conversation.

The first passage is read aloud, sometimes more than once, to help participants focus. Then someone in the group offers a few prepared words about the chapter or sura in which the passage occurs, its historical background, its traditional interpretation, or its use in worship. Briefly mentioning one or more of these contexts helps participants find their initial footing in conversation. But this brief intro to the context should be kept to about two or three minutes.

Conversation begins when we make observations and ask clarifying questions about the words on the page. The goal initially is not to interpret the passage or to say what it means so much as describe what is happening—surprising images, word choices, arrangements of words, gestures, shifts in tone, shifts in speaker, etc. If the scriptural text becomes puzzling or bewildering at this stage, then conversation is going well.

Conversation continues as we take down books from our internal libraries that seem relevant to the text. In SR, we refer to prior knowledge as an “internal library”—all the stories, ideas, faith commitments, religious practices, and life experiences that we rely on as guides to interpretation.

Conversation circulates freely as participants respond to one another, return to the text, and compare the text to their internal libraries, usually for about twenty minutes per passage.

The second passage is read aloud, followed by a brief word about context, careful description, comparison to internal libraries. Conversation moves freely back and forth among the participants.

The third passage is read aloud and the practice continues.

After all three passages have been discussed, we compare the three passages to one another, usually for about ten or fifteen minutes. What did we find similar or different about these passages?

Finally, we return to the theme that organized our selection of texts and ask, So what? What difference do these passages make to the way we think about or respond in our lives to the theme we’ve discussed?