The Arkansas ECW initiated a new project in the fall of 2015. Nine of our women have been leading us – one a month from September to May – in reading outstanding books that promise to contribute to our spiritual growth and development. Current book study list for the nine-month period is below, immediately followed by the current month’s selection. Archive of previous years’ lists and study questions are also retained on this page.
At the beginning of each month, we will post an overview of the book and the author, and a set of questions to guide our reading and discussion. Many of our parishes already have book study groups and have found them to be fascinating and helpful as well as a great bonding mechanism for the women who participate. For those who enjoy online group participation, we also will host a page on Facebook, named ECW Book Study, where online discussion is encouraged. Current Facebook members may click here to join the ECW Book Study group.
If you do not have a Facebook account, it’s easy to sign up:
2. Fill out your name, email address or phone number, password, birthday and gender.
3. Click Sign Up.
4. At top left of the page is a rectangular search box. Type ECW Book Study, then click on it. Next, click on Join Group.
And while you’re on Facebook, don’t forget to check out and join our other active group, where you will be able to share your church events and photos, and discover what other churches around the state are doing. To visit and/or join the group, click Arkansas ECW .
ECW BOOK STUDY – FALL 2016 – SPRING 2017
September –Liz Adams, St. Nicholas’, Maumelle – Rachel Anne Ridge, Flash: The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me About Life, Faith, and Second Chances, email@example.com
October – Dawn Reynolds, St. Luke’s, NLR – Anita Diamant, The Red Tent, firstname.lastname@example.org
November – Sara Milford, St. Luke’s, Hot Springs – Marilynne Robinson, Home, email@example.com
December – Joanna Campbell, St. James’, Eureka Springs – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, firstname.lastname@example.org
January – Peggy Cromwell, St. Nicholas’, Maumelle – Mark Galli, Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonderful Power of Christian Liturgy, email@example.com
February – Marti Dalby, St. Francis’, Heber Springs – Richard Schmidt, Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, firstname.lastname@example.org
March – Betsy Watson, St. Paul’s, Newport – Marcus Borg, The Last Week, email@example.com
April – Helen Hargreaves, All Saints’, Russellville – Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, [available FREE online] firstname.lastname@example.org
May – Dinah Reed, St. Peter’s, Conway – Adam Hamilton, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things The Bible Doesn’t Say, email@example.com
BOOK FOR MAY 2017
Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things The Bible Doesn’t Say by Adam Hamilton
Presented by Dinah Reed
Rev. Adam Hamilton is an American minister and author. He is senior pastor of the 20,000 member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. He is a graduate of Oral Roberts University and Perkins School of Theology, a United Methodist Seminary. He is the recipient of two honorary doctorates, the B’nai B’rith Award in Social Ethics, and was named one “Ten People to Watch in America’s Spiritual Landscape” by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. He is the author of numerous books including John: The Gospel of Light and Life, 24 Hours That Changed the World, The Way, and The Journey. (Wikipedia)
Adam Hamilton’s Half Truths will lead readers to explore familiar ideas many Christians proclaim and believe to be true. As Christians we believe that our faith is about truth. Jesus Christ said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Hamilton contends that there are some ideas Christians embrace that may not be entirely true although they seem to have the ring of truth and may even be partially supported by scripture. However, some are not even in the Bible and may be half truths at best. When we speak half truths, we may deny the authenticity of others’ experiences and avoid the hard work of grappling with complex issues and painful realities to the detriment of our faith life. Readers will examine ways the half truth does not capture the truth of the Bible. They may embrace an understanding of a sovereign God who gives freedom and works through people for good.
Questions for Introduction and Chapter 1, “Everything Happens for A Reason”
What are some situations you can name where you or someone else responded by asserting “Everything happens for a reason”?
Look back over the three critiques in the first five paragraphs of Chapter 1. What implications does author Adam Hamilton suggest about each critique? (Problem of Personal Responsibility, Problem of God’s Responsibility, Problem of Fatalism and Indifference).
What does Rev. Hamilton say about how sovereigns operate in ruling their people? How does this help us understand the sovereignty of God?
Hamilton suggests we need to be attentive to the whisper of God’s Voice in making us aware of what needs to be done. Describe a time when you responded to a nudge from God.
In the Scripture focus, Deuteronomy 30:19-20a, examine the choices Moses lays before the people. What do these choices imply to you about the statement “Everything happens for a reason”?
Questions for Chapter 2, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves”
Reread Thessalonians 3:10-12, the excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Thessalonica that is in Chapter 2. How and why were the Thessalonians mistakenly interpreting what it meant to trust in Jesus?
From the same passage, what was their understanding of how God provided for their needs? What is your understanding of how God provides for you?
How did the Civil Rights activists live out their understanding of “pray and work”?
What current problems in the life our community, nation, and the world do you think call for Christians to “pray and work” for justice?
Consider one of the following as discussed in Chapter 2: “God’s Concern for the Poor and Needy” and “God’s Help for the Helpless = Grace”. How would you argue that the statement “God helps those who help themselves” is neither biblically nor theologically true?
How is God calling us to work to transform the world? Can our prayer life empower us and guide us into action?
Questions for Chapter 3, “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”
Complete this open-ended statement: Temptation comes to me in the form of . . . Reflect on the temptations in your own life that represents the most profound challenges to faithful living.
Hamilton contends that it is not God who tempts us, and that He tries to put up speed bumps and roadblocks to remind us we are on the road to temptation and it is time to choose a different path. Describe an experience like this that you or someone you know has had.
When we experience things that are difficult to handle, do they come from God? If God didn’t cause them, how do you account for them?
Reflect on the story in the text about the woman whose son committed suicide in front of her. Three years after this tragic event, in telling how she survived the trauma, she refers to her “stretcher bearers”. Who have been your “stretcher bearers” in times of trauma or sorrow?
Evaluate your own experiences of loss, pain, or trauma. Affirm that God is helping you cope, and list ways of giving thanks to God as you journey toward hope. (If not you, maybe for a friend or family member.)
Questions for Chapter 4, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”
If you saw the bumper sticker, “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It”, would you put it on your car? Why or why not?
Look at the list under the topic “Going to Extremes”. Choose a couple of items on the list that represent things you would have to change in your own life. (Even Jesus had a somewhat liberal interpretation of the Sabbath laws!)
Two important issues that may be related to customs of the time rather than deep and enduring truths are the treatment of women and the institution of slavery. Choose one of these and cite examples of what the Bible has to say about it. (What is the context for such a statement? Is there any information that seems to contradict the statement?)
What are your feelings about the following statement: “Every word of the Bible was dictated by God and recorded by the hands of human writers”?
How does our understanding of the way our Bible was written differ from what Muslims believe about the Qur’an?
In what ways does scripture function for you? How do you experience God speaking to you through scripture?
Hamilton, while stressing the importance of the Bible’s interpretation, notes the danger in picking and choosing scripture. What is the danger? Do you agree?
Questions for Chapter 5, “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin”
Think about a situation in which you heard someone say (or you said), “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. What was your impression of the speaker’s intentions? What effect did it have on the person spoken to?
Reread Matthew 7:1-5 from the Sermon on the Mount (also found this chapter). What is Jesus’ point here about spiritual blindness and judging others? What do you believe Jesus is calling us to do?
Hamilton observes that loving people as neighbors doesn’t necessarily mean having warm feelings for them or even liking them personally. What does it mean to love our neighbors?
Why are we to love out enemies especially?
When Jesus speaks to sinful people he doesn’t talk about their sin. What does he talk about? How do you feel about this?
With respect to sin, what is it that Jesus wants us to recognize more than the sin?
Respond to the following open-ended statement:
When I am in a situation where I am tempted to say . . . (Fill in one of the half truths.), I will respond in this way instead . . .
BOOK FOR APRIL 2017
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Presented by Helen Hargraves
Alcoholics Anonymous is the main text used by millions of alcoholics, worldwide, to find sobriety. Additionally, it helps people find ways to cope with problems that usually lead them to unhealthy coping methods and at the same time it gently but firmly leads people to rely on a power greater than themselves. Every chapter guides people reading the book with suggestions, and not commands, teaching that we always have a choice. The hardest part of this book for someone reading it in this day and age is the language used. It refers to God as “Him,” talks about “men” and about the response of their wives to their alcoholism. As you read please remember that this book was written in the mid 1930’s. Speech, the role of women and the thought that most alcoholics were men were the thought of the day. As a person who has learned much from the 12 steps of this book, I have learned to change in my mind the 30’s speech I need to and leave the rest alone. Someday someone with more knowledge than I may try to change the wording of this book. Because I know firsthand how many people it has helped, I hope the antiquated language will be overlooked if possible, for this study. The first 164 pages are the whys and wherefores of the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The stories after page 164 are firsthand accounts of real people’s success with this program.
The Big Book of AA is offered free many places online and also at The Central Office at the back of the Tanglewood Shopping Center in Little Rock (corner of Cantrell and Mississippi).
Helen Hargreaves is an Episcopal Deacon and has been doing 12 step work for 15 years. “I have found this book, The Book of Common Prayer and the truths of the Bible are the books I read and re-read. This book of Alcoholics Anonymous me the ‘how to’s’ that I longed for as I sat in church for so many years and wondered, ‘But HOW do I do this thing called religion? There must be more to it that I am missing!” Some of us learn more slowly than others. I am deeply grateful that I learned at all! May the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous help you share whatever message you need to share including the Good News of Jesus Christ as well as any kind of sobriety, physical, mental or spiritual. May God bless you as we commence shoulder to shoulder on our common journey.”
Week of April 2-8
Chapter 1 – Bill’s Story
1. Look for similarities or what you can relate to, how he thought, felt.
2. Can you find the beginning of the 12 steps in Bill’s story?
3.Why was Bill’s friend more effective in his recovery than doctors etc. had been.
4. Bill’s “conversion” was almost instantaneous, which rarely happens. Can you recount yours or tell how you experience conversion?
5. Can you explain how work with another in the program keeps ‘sober’ people sober?
6.What does this chapter have to do with a growing spirituality?
Chapter 2 – There Is a Solution
1. What is the ‘great news’ that the book carries?
2. Explain the saying ‘it’s not the last drink you have that makes you drunk, it’s the first.
3. What is the ‘great fact’ that Bill talks about?
4. What does this chapter have to do with a growing spiritual condition?
Chapter 3 – More About Alcoholism
1.What are some of the vain attempts people have made to quit drinking?
2.What are some ways to diagnose yourself?
3.Once sober for many years can we drink normally?
4.What is the great obsession that many alcoholics face?
6.How does this chapter fit with a growing spirituality?
Week of April 9-15
Chapter 4 – We Agnostics
To one who feels he is atheist or agnostic, such a spiritual experience may seem impossible. To be doomed to an alcoholic’s death or live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.
1.What is our dilemma?
2.What are some of Bill and Dr. Bob’s good reasons for belief in a higher power?
3. Explain ‘God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves’.
4. Explain how this chapter deals with spirituality.
Chapter 5 – How It Works
This is the meat of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 steps and how to work them are revealed. These are steps to help us learn to live life on life’s terms, how to handle any problem, how to cope with any situation. Once we have stopped our destructive behavior (drinking, eating, drugs, co-dependent relationships, or any number of things) these steps are our tools for living a sane and spiritual life. Please replace alcohol with any destructive behavior you would like.
Chapter 6 – Into Action
The first four steps are taken in our hearts with the guidance of our sponsor or a trusted friend. But beginning with this chapter the action of the program is explained.
1. Can we skip the 5th step if we have admitted our Character defects to ourselves and to God?
2.Who can we do our 5th step with?
3.Will any action steps (or any of the 12 steps) be taken more than one time?
4. Talk about how these next steps need to be taken.
5.On the bottom of page 83-top of 84, are “the Promises”. Are they at work in your life? Explain how.
6.What is our daily reprieve from alcohol contingent upon? Explain.
Week of April 16-22
Chapter 7 – Working with Others
1. Is there a recovery message you want to share with others?
2.Where can you share your experience strength and hope?
3.What network of support have you established for yourself to remind you that in carrying the message, actions speak louder than words.
4.What does “Bottles were only a symbol” mean?
Chapter 8 – To Wives *(Husbands)
This chapter (written in 1939) is one that will take all that has been learned so far- willingness, openness, tolerance- to read in this day and age. Look for the nuggets that will be helpful and leave the rest. There are nuggets.
Chapter 9 – The Family Afterward
This chapter may also take a bit of openness and willingness to read.
Week of April 23-29
Chapter 10 – To Employees
1.Why is Bill convinced that the recovered alcoholic is such a good investment?
2.Did reading this chapter help you deal with an alcoholic friend, family member, employee or coworker?
3.What could this chapter and the previous two chapters have to do with an alcoholic living a more spiritual life? Why would theses chapters be included in this volume?
Chapter 11 – A Vision for You
This chapter re-explains that there is a way out of alcoholism and back to a happy and productive way of life for anyone who is willing to be honest and go to any length to achieve it. Then they are given the tools to cope with the problems that come with living “life on life’s terms.”
1. Can one achieve the results desired in this program, alone? Are their connections here with living in Christian Community?
2.What is the Great Reality this chapter refers to? Can you explain the comparison between the way this program teaches people to treat each other and how Christians are taught to “Love thy neighbor as thyself”?
BOOK FOR March 2017
The Last Week by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan
Presented by Betsy Watson
Top Jesus scholars Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join together to reveal a radical and little-known Jesus. As both authors reacted to and responded to questions about Mel Gibson’s blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, they discovered that many Christians are unclear on the details of events during the week leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion.
Using the gospel of Mark as their guide, Borg and Crossan present a day-by-day account of Jesus’s final week of life. They begin their story on Palm Sunday with two triumphal entries into Jerusalem. The first entry, that of Roman governor Pontius Pilate leading Roman soldiers into the city, symbolized military strength. The second heralded a new kind of moral hero who was praised by the people as he rode in on a humble donkey. The Jesus introduced by Borg and Crossan is this new moral hero, a more dangerous Jesus than the one enshrined in the church’s traditional teachings.
The Last Week depicts Jesus giving up his life to protest power without justice and to condemn the rich who lack concern for the poor. In this vein, at the end of the week Jesus marches up Calvary, offering himself as a model for others to do the same when they are confronted by similar issues. Informed, challenged, and inspired, we not only meet the historical Jesus, we meet a new Jesus who engages us and invites us to follow him.
Betsy Watson lives in Newport, where she divides her time between being a community person (Historical Society board, ECW Secretary, PEO President), and an historian and writer (in which persona she is known as Elizabeth Jacoway). She is a gardener and the Mom of two grown sons. She has recently completed ten years of service on the state board of the Episcopal Church Women, an enterprise she commends highly.
THE LAST WEEK: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem – Questions for Discussion
February 27 – March 3: Chapter One
- An important theme of the chapter is Jerusalem’s role and ambiguity. What had its role and significance become in the time of Jesus?
- What role does Jerusalem play in the Gospel of Mark?
- What impression of Jesus do you get from this chapter?
March 6 – 10: Chapters Two and Three
- How does the derivation of the word sacrifice from the Latin sacrum facere (“to make sacred”) explain the theory and practice of blood/animal sacrifice?
- Why had the temple and high-priesthood become deeply ambiguous – both good and bad – for many first-century Jews?
- How do the Entrance incident and Temple incident create twin symbolic actions for Mark?
- Was Jesus deliberately seeking martyrdom?
- One of the most familiar texts from this part of Mark reads “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s.” What have you understood this passage to mean, or how have you heard it interpreted? How do you understand it after reading Chapter Three?
- How has this chapter added to your picture of Jesus or your understanding of his last week?
March 13 – 17: Chapters Four and Five
- Why is Mark’s emphasis that Jesus was protected from the high-priestly authorities by the Jerusalem crowd on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday so important for understanding the logic of his story?
- Mark has Jesus give three clear prophecies of his death and resurrection as he journeys from Galilee to Jerusalem in chapters 8-10, and each has a similar triple sequence of prophecy from Jesus, reaction by his disciples, and response from Jesus. What is the point of Mark’s emphasis on the repeated failure of the disciples to react properly in those three sequences?
- In terms of death and resurrection, is Jesus announcing substitution by him or demanding participation with him?
- Do we know the motives for Judas’s betrayal of Jesus?
- How is the Last Supper a new Passover meal, and what does that mean?
- What does the phrase “one like a son of man” have to do with the kingdom of God on earth?
- How does the presence of the Son of Man and the presence of the kingdom of God connect together for Mark?
March 20 – 24: Chapters Six and Seven
- A major theme of this chapter is “substitutionary atonement,” or “substitutionary sacrifice,” as a way of understanding the meaning of Jesus’s death. What do you understand this to mean? Were you taught this way of understanding Jesus’s death? Has it ever caused problems for you?
- Did Jesus’s death have to happen? What does the chapter say? What do YOU think?
- What are the two main ways in which God saves and vindicates the persecuted and condemned Righteous Ones in the Christian Old Testament?
- What – first for Judaism and then for Jewish Christianity – was meant by eschatology and especially by apocalyptic eschatology? Is this still of any importance?
- Explain why the claim of already-present for the kingdom of God and the Son of Man is at the heart of the new proclamation of Jesus in Mark.
- Are we waiting for God to transform the earth from violent injustice to nonviolent justice alone, or is God waiting for us to cooperate in doing it together?
March 27 – 31: Chapter Eight
- What did Easter mean to you when you were a child?
- What do you understand as the difference between seeing the stories of Easter as history or as parable?
- According to this chapter, what are the central meanings of the stories of Easter taken together?
- What does this chapter say about “Easter and Christian life today,” and what do you think of the claims made in this section?
- What does Easter mean to you now?
BOOK FOR FEBRUARY 2017
Glorious Companions Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt
Presented by The Reverend Marti Dalby+
The author – Richard H. Schmidt, retired after serving for thirty years as an Episcopal parish priest in West Virginia, Missouri, and Alabama. He has taught undergraduate religion courses and has edited several religious publications, including The Episcopalian. He lives in Chesterfield, Missouri. (From the inside cover of the book)
The presenter – The Reverend Marti Dalby is vicar at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She is also currently in the Doctor of Ministry Advanced Degree Program at the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee with an emphasis in Liturgy and how the Eucharist can bring healing to the hurting world in which we live. She is the chaplain for the diocesan ECW in Arkansas.
In a doctoral class at the School of Theology in Sewanee, I enrolled in a class about Anglican Spirituality that opened my mind to the writings of theologians since 1549, when the first prayer book was compiled. It reminded me that there has always been spirituality among Anglicans, but that it is often little known to those lay members of the Episcopal Church. It also reminded me of a book that I had read some years before that brought together twenty-nine biographies and writings of Anglicans whose spirituality, although also spread out over five centuries, has the power to relate to us just as strongly now as when they were written. Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality is that book and its inside cover states it very well:
These icons of the Christian faith include not only bishops and scholars but also housewives, poets, novelists, and teachers. Each chapter contains a brief biographical sketch of its subject, a selection of short, representative quotations from his or her writings, and several questions for reflection and discussion.
This book, a much shorter version of the class I took at seminary, takes a look at some of these Anglican writers. I am sharing it with you because I believe that they do have something significant to say today about spirituality and about how we all can find it in our own lives. I hope you will enjoy the book and the questions at the end of each chapter. I am suggesting four writers each week for the month of February, but please read on and complete the book. You will not be disappointed!
Thomas Cranmer – Father of the Prayer Book (page 1)
Richard Hooker – Definitive Anglican (page 21)
John Donne – He Dueled with Death (page 47)
Dorothy L. Sayers – Whimsical Apologist (page 266)
John Wesley – Outside Agitator (page 116)
John Keble – Herald of Revival (page 174)
Hannah More – More than Lady Bountiful (page 152)
C. S. Lewis – Mere Christian (page 276)
Evelyn Underhill – Guide in the Life of Prayer (page 242)
Lancelot Andrews – Private Devotions (page 34)
William Porcher DuBose – Rebel with a Cause (page 196)
Vida Dutton Scudder – She Dreamt of a New World (page 220)
George Herbert – Poet Parson (page 58)
Madeleine L’Engle – Teller of Tales (page 298)
Roland Allen – Missionary to the Missionaries (page 231)
Verna Dozier – Re-envisioning the Laity (page 287)
BOOK FOR JANUARY 2017
From Amazon: “Liturgy lures us through our senses, grounds us in a great tradition, and plants us in the midst of a diverse community, present and past. Are you attracted to liturgy but don’t know why? Are you considering changing to liturgical tradition? Are you already immersed in liturgical worship but want to grasp its deeper significance? Beyond Smells and Bells addresses the lure and relevance of liturgy for your life today. Thousands of Christians become interest in liturgy each year for the first time, as they turn to orthodoxy, tradition, and the lasting rituals of the Christian faith. In a culture that values spontaneity, liturgy grounds us in something enduring. In a culture that assumes truth is a product of the mind, liturgy helps us experience truth in mind, body, and spirit. In Mark Galli’s able telling, liturgy is an intriguing story, full of mystery, that transforms us.”
About the author: Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and the author of Francis of Assisi and His World, and Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God. He is married and has been worshiping in the Anglican tradition for nearly 20 years, most recently as a member of Church of the Resurrection in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
About the presenter: The Reverend Peggy Cromwell was born, raised, and has lived her whole life in Arkansas. She is a retired English teacher with a total of 31 years of classroom experience. Her home parish has been St Nicholas’ in Maumelle where she served as junior warden. Peggy graduated as a member of the first full class of the Arkansas Iona Initiative in June 2016. She was ordained as a deacon on August 6, 2016 and is currently serving at St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway. She loves to cook, read, play golf, and spend time with friends and family. She lives in Maumelle with her partner, Liz Adams, and their dog Sister, and their cat Bebe.
Kindle Version: $8.49; Paperback (new) $16.95; various prices for used copies.
Week 1: January 1 – 7
Chapters 1 – 3
Chapter 1: Living the Old, Old Story
1. What does liturgy mean to you?
2. What are your earliest, most meaningful, or favorite memories of “liturgical” services?
Chapter 2: Cosmic Daytimer
1. Do you observe “the cosmic calendar”? If so, in what ways?
Chapter 3: Life Together
1. Look at the last paragraph of the chapter (p. 37). The author states that “After praying the liturgy for a few years, it becomes impossible to pray alone, or to feel alone when we pray by ourselves.”
Do you find this to be true?
Week 2: January 8 – 14
Chapters 4 – 7
Chapter 4: The Intimate Other
1. Look at the last paragraph on p. 44: “The liturgy is infused with the presence of Christ from beginning to end, but the climax of intimacy comes when we partake of the body and blood of Jesus. It’s one of those paradoxical moments when we know both the mystery of God’s otherness and our union with him.”
Reflect on your own reaction to the moment when you receive the sacraments.
Chapter 5: If You Don’t Get It, You’ve Got It
1. See p. 49: Meister Eckhart’s quote (near the top of the page) on the incomprehensibility of God. What images come to your mind when you say God?
2. Look at Jerry Driscoll’s quote on p. 53. Reflect on your own “divine reality.”
Chapter 6: A More Real Culture
1. Reflect on the meaning of “relevant” worship. Consider other services you have attended that might be less “liturgical” as a means of comparison.
2. In what ways, if any, does liturgical worship transcend our time and place?
Chapter 7: Bizarre Holy Moments
1. See the Water imagery on p. 67. Reflect on images from the liturgy which are meaningful to you. Why do you think this is so?
Week 3: January 15 – 20
Chapters 8 – 11
Chapter 8: What You Don’t See is What You Get
1. Reflect on your favorite “holy” or “thin” places. What makes them so for you?
Chapter 9: Little Stillnesses
1. Where does Christ show up for you most often in the liturgy? In your daily life? In the world?
Chapter 10: We Worship a Material Savior
1. Reflect on your own physical acts of personal piety, i.e. genuflection, raising hands in prayer, kneeling, etc. What is it about these actions
that helps you enter into worship?
Chapter 11: Learning by Laughing
1. Reflect on your church community and “communal” education. What have you learned from your involvement, or lack thereof? What have you learned “that cannot be taught”?
Week 4: January 22 – 28
Chapters 12 – 14
Chapter 12: Living in the Trinity
1. In what ways have you been a participant in the “mission of the Trinity, which is to create and sustain other beings in love” (p.103)? In what ways have you been a recipient – have others seen something in you and called it forth?
2. Reflect on being a “partaker of the divine nature.”
Chapter 13: Drunken Sobriety
1. See the bottom of p. 108: “Drunken sobriety combines the intellect and the heart, and yet transcends them, allowing us to enter into God’s presence in a way that the mind and heart alone or together cannot. It is to love God with the soul’s spiritual intelligence.” Reflect on times when your “spiritual intelligence” was formed, or grew, or continues to develop.
Chapter 14: Words of Living Water
1. See p. 114. “The poetry of liturgy…contains words that have been shaped and crafted over the centuries. It is formal speech. It is public poetry.” Reflect on the parts of the liturgy that speak to you in a poetic sense. Consider the different eucharistic prayers, the collects, etc.
BOOK FOR DECEMBER 2016
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”
“Elizabeth Gilbert is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection, Pilgrims—a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as writer-at-large for GQ. Her journalism has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Spin, and The New York Times Magazine, and her stories have appeared in Esquire, Story, and the Paris Review.”
Discussion questions offered by Joanna ES Campbell
Joanna Campbell grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. She earned her M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. She teaches writing at Northwest Arkansas Community College. You can find her essays in Jesus, Jazz, & Buddhism, Relief Journal, and Art House America. She lives in Eureka Springs with her husband, Dennis.
Gilbert talks about how the poet, Jack Gilbert, instructed his students to be brave – that “without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known.”
- a) What does bravery mean to you?
- b) How might you reimagine bravery as an act of creativity?
Creative Living, Defined
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place – that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.”
- a) What is your definition of creative living?
- b) How is your faith colored by creative living and vice versa?
- c) What inner jewels have you discovered so far?
An Amplified Existence
Gilbert writes that creative living is about being driven by curiosity and not fear.
- a) What are the times when you have been driven by fear?
- b) What are the times you have been driven by curiosity?
Scary, Scary, Scary & Defending Your Weakness
What are your reasons for not living a creative life?
When do you find yourself arguing for your limitations?
Fear is Boring
What do you think of Gilbert’s idea that fear is not special or unique? Do you relate to her comment that she thought her fear was the most interesting thing about herself?
The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don’t Need & The Road Trip
Gilbert writes that anytime we embark on something creative, fear automatically pops up, as if it is a voice that questions our impulse to create. If you were to write a letter to your fear, what would you say?
What does it look like to make a safe and healthy space for fear in your life?
An Idea Arrives
Gilbert vividly describes how an idea comes to her. She describes this as inspiration. How do ideas come to you? How might listening for ideas/inspiration be a spiritual practice?
How Ideas Work & A Little Perspective
Gilbert describes “creativity as a force of enchantment.” In fact, “magic” is her refrain for describing creativity as an active, vibrant medium that is searching for someone to manifest through. What changes for you, if anything, by replacing the words, magic and enchantment, with Holy Spirit?
In other words, Gilbert believes “that ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth.”
With that in mind, what does it look like to open yourself up to the Holy Spirit? How do you collaborate with the Holy Spirit?
What Happens When You Say No
Think of a time in your life when you wish you had not said no to creativity and a time when you should have said no.
What Happens When You Say Yes
What promise can you make to yourself to honor your creativity and your self once you say yes?
A Different Way
Here is an excerpt from Gilbert’s call to action for those who want to embrace creative living:
“You can receive your ideas with respect and curiosity, not with drama or dread. You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also for your work. You can lay off the booze a bit in order to have a keener mind. You can nourish healthier relationships in order to keep yourself undistracted by self-invented emotional catastrophes. You can dare to be pleased sometimes with what you have created…You can resist the seductions of grandiosity, blame, and shame. You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledging the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
How might these words translate into prayer or other spiritual practices in your life?
Multiple Discovery & Let it Come and Go
Gilbert also doesn’t romanticize creativity, claiming the need to show up for your creative work, to be diligent and disciplined, which is similar to the language we use with spiritual practices. The muse may strike, but then it is up to us to do the work, and if we are lucky, we may “burst right into bloom.” Has that been your experience in life? If you are not where you want to be with your creativity, what changes/sacrifices do you need to make in order to honor this part of yourself?
If you have been waiting for creativity to show up in your life, what can you do to show up for creativity?
Pinned Beneath the Boulder
Gilbert writes about our societal tendency to value creativity based on notions of success, of winning and losing, of financial gain, or of public approval – the idea that if you can’t win, then you shouldn’t participate at all. How do you relate to this? What does it mean to you to create something purely as an act of creation without the attached ideas of success? How might the God of your understanding change if you let go of these ideas about success?
Your Permission Slip
Gilbert issues a permission slip to her readers that we don’t need anyone’s permission to lead a creative life. She writes in a lighthearted tone to not take ourselves too seriously, that we create because we enjoy doing so, that “inspiration likes working with us” and that we should “let inspiration lead” us “wherever it wants to lead” us. How does this sentiment mesh with creativity as a spiritual practice?
If you are someone who thinks you are not a creative person or that creative, Gilbert argues that if you are alive, you are a creative person. Is this difficult to accept? If so, why?
How can you cultivate the creative entitlement that “you are allowed to be here, and that-merely by being here-you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own”?
What do you think of Gilbert’s thoughts on the arrogance of belonging, that “it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself and allow you to engage more fully with life. Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption”?
Originality vs. Authenticity
What does being authentic mean to you? How might your creative work change if you made a commitment to authenticity rather than originality?
Who have been your teachers, your mentors? What inspires you and renews?
Gilbert writes about how our tendency to complain, specifically about how difficult creativity can be, is not constructive and that it actually scares inspiration away – “Every time you express a complaint about how difficult and tiresome it is to be creative, inspiration takes another step away from you, offended.” What do you think of her suggestion to proclaim that you love your work, all of it, the good and the bad, and to do so as a subversive act against your demons and doubts?
We Were Just a Band
Do you agree with Gilbert that while “artistic instincts have divine and magical origins” we shouldn’t take them so seriously, that “human artistic expression is blessedly, refreshingly nonessential”? Does this seem incongruent with her writing up to this point?
The Sh*t Sandwich
Gilbert writes that frustration is a fundamental part of the creative process. The more we learn how to navigate and mediate frustration, the more easily we can engage in our endeavors. How does accepting this notion free you up? What are the ways you handle your frustration?
“What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”
Have an Affair
“When people are having an affair, they don’t mind losing sleep, or missing meals. They will make whatever sacrifices they have to make, and they will blast through any obstacles, in order to be alone with the object of their devotion and obsession – because it matters to them…Let yourself fall in love with your creativity like that and see what happens.”
Are you treating your creativity like a “tired, old, unhappy” marriage?
What might it look like to have an affair with your creativity?
What might it look like to have an affair with God?
Tristam Shandy Chimes In
“Try to present yourself to your creativity as if you are sexy – as if you are somebody worth spending time with.” Another way of looking at this suggestion is to cultivate rituals around engaging with your creativity. We use ritual to prepare ourselves for spiritual practice. What are the ways you can prepare for creativity? For instance, sometimes I light a candle, or sometimes I put on a fun pair of earrings. Sometimes I play a certain kind of music. I always burn cedar incense when I write. What do you do? What can you do?
Marcus Aurelius Chimes In
What do you think of the following claims made by Gilbert:
“…if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).
“An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy.”
The Teaching of Pain
Gilbert writes: “I believe that our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies – not from the pathologies themselves. But so many people think it’s the other way around. For this reason, you will often meet artists who deliberately cling to their suffering, their addictions, their fears, their demons. They worry that if they ever let go of all that anguish, their very identities would vanish…People have a strange trust in their devils, indeed.”
How do you relate to this passage?
Our Better Angels
Gilbert suggests that by claiming the identity of Tortured Artist, one is granting permission to behave badly, to engage in self absorption. She quotes a psychoanalyst who says: “If the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having.” This suggests an accountability to one’s mental health and those we are in relationship with. How might being accountable to God also be a form of accountability toward healthy creativity?
Choose What to Trust
“Why would your creativity not love you? It came to you…It drew itself near. It worked itself into you, asking for your attention and your devotion. It filled you with the desire to make and do interesting things. Creativity wanted a relationship with you.”
How might we think of creativity in our lives as an act of listening for God?
How might we think of God as creativity desperately wanting to be in relationship with us, to flourish, to be playful, to delight in what we manifest?
The Scavenger Hunt
Gilbert makes a distinction between passion and curiosity, that being creative is often not the result of a muse or dramatic acts of intervention, that sometimes it requires us taking the first step toward curiosity. How does the mundane lead to creativity for you? How might it do so by taking this awareness in mind?
In the spirit of approaching life from a curiosity perspective, what would it be like to reconsider something you’ve created that you’re not proud of? Rather than say that it’s awful, consider that it’s interesting. What can you learn from it as an interesting creation?
What does fierce trust look like for you?
“Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.”
How might playfulness be a part of creative living for you, hence how might playfulness be a spiritual practice?
BOOK FOR NOVEMBER 2016
BOOK FOR OCTOBER 2016
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant
The red tent is the place where women gathered during their cycles of birthing, menses, and even illness. Like the conversations and mysteries held within this feminine tent, this sweeping piece of fiction offers an insider’s look at the daily life of a biblical sorority of mothers and wives and their one and only daughter, Dinah. Told in the voice of Jacob’s daughter Dinah (who only received a glimpse of recognition in the Book of Genesis), we are privy to the fascinating feminine characters who bled within the red tent. In a confiding and poetic voice, Dinah whispers stories of her four mothers, Rachel, Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah–all wives to Jacob, and each one embodying unique feminine traits. As she reveals these sensual and emotionally charged stories we learn of birthing miracles, slaves, artisans, household gods, and sisterhood secrets. Eventually Dinah delves into her own saga of betrayals, grief, and a call to midwifery. “Like any sisters who live together and share a husband, my mother and aunties spun a sticky web of loyalties and grudges,” Anita Diamant writes in the voice of Dinah. “They traded secrets like bracelets, and these were handed down to me the only surviving girl. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember.” Remembering women’s earthy stories and passionate history is indeed the theme of this magnificent book. In fact, it’s been said that The Red Tent is what the Bible might have been had it been written by God’s daughters, instead of her sons.
Anita Diamant started her career as a journalist, writing for many prominent publications, then wrote six guidebooks to Jewish life and lifecycle events. In 1997, she published her first work of fiction. Inspired by a few lines from Genesis, The Red Tent tells the story an obscure and overlooked character named Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob and Leah. The Red Tent became a word-of-mouth bestseller thanks to reader recommendations, book groups, and support from independent bookstores. In 2001, the Independent Booksellers Alliance honored The Red Tent as the “Booksense Best Fiction” of the year. The Red Tent has been published in more than 25 countries world-wide, including Australia, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Israel, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. In 2014, the novel was adapted as a two-part, four-hour miniseries by Lifetime TV. Diamant has written two other novels.
- Read Genesis 34 and discuss howThe Red Tentchanges your perspective on Dinah’s story and also on the story of Joseph that follows. Does The Red Tent raise questions about other women in the Bible? Does it make you want to re-read the Bible and imagine other untold stories that lay hidden between the lines?
- Discuss the marital dynamics of Jacob’s family. He has four wives; compare his relationship with each woman?
- What do you make of the relationships among the four wives?
- Dinah is rich in “mothers.” Discuss the differences or similarities in her relationship with each woman.
- Childbearing and childbirth are central toThe Red Tent. How do the fertility childbearing and birthing practices differ from contemporary life? How are they similar? How do they compare with your own experiences as a mother or father?
- Discuss Jacob’s role as a father. Does he treat Dinah differently from his sons? Does he feel differently about her? If so, how?
- Discuss Dinah’s twelve brothers. Discuss their relationships with each other, with Dinah, and with Jacob and his four wives. Are they a close family?
- Female relationships figure largely inThe Red Tent. Discuss the importance of Inna, Tabea, Werenro, and Meryt.
- In the novel, Rebecca is presented as an Oracle. Goddesses are venerated along with gods. What do you think of this culture, in which the Feminine has not yet been totally divorced from the Divine? How does El, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, fit into this?
- Dinah’s point of view is often one of an outsider, an observer. What effect does this have on the narrative? What effect does this have on the reader?
- The book travels from Haran (contemporary Iraq/Syria), through Canaan and into Shechem (Israel), and into Egypt. What strikes you about the cultural differences Dinah encounters vis-a-vis food, clothing, work, and male-female relationships.
- In The Red Tent, we see Dinah grow from childhood to old age. Discuss how she changes and matures. What lessons does she learn from life? If you had to pick a single word to describe the sum of her life, what word would you choose? How would Dinah describe her own life experience?
BOOK FOR SEPTEMBER 2016
Liz Adams writes “This is a delightful and thought-provoking book about the impact that one of God’s creatures can have on others. For those of you with EfM experience, you might find it similar at times to a really good Theological Reflection. It is a true story which makes it that much more meaningful.” Liz is a member of St Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Maumelle and is active in the ECW. A voracious reader for her business, Liz occasionally reads what she calls “a palate cleanser,” and that’s how she found Flash. Liz also serves on the Camp Mitchell Board of Trustees. In her spare time, she loves to travel and spend time with her grandchildren.
Here’s what Amazon has to say about Flash:
The heartwarming tale of an irrepressible donkey who needed a home―and forever changed a family.
Rachel Anne Ridge was at the end of her rope. The economy had crashed, taking her formerly thriving business along with it. She had been a successful artist, doing work she loved, but now she felt like a failure. How would her family pay their bills? What would the future hold? If only God would somehow let them know that everything was going to be all right . . . and then Flash the donkey showed up.
If there is ever a good time to discover a wounded, frightened, bedraggled donkey standing in your driveway, this wasn’t it. The local sheriff dismissed Flash as “worthless.” But Rachel didn’t believe that, and she couldn’t turn him away. She brought Flash into her struggling family during their darkest hour―and he turned out to be the very thing they needed most. Flash is the true story of their adventures together in learning to love and trust; breaking down whatever fences stood in their way; and finding the strength, confidence, and faith to carry on. Prepare to fall in love with Flash: a quirky, unlikely hero with gigantic ears, a deafening bray, a personality as big as Texas, and a story you’ll never forget.
Week 1: Chapters 1 – 3; Discussion Questions:
- Have you had a “donkey in the driveway” moment – a time when something unexpected disrupted your life and routine? What was it, and how did you respond?
- The county sheriff dismisses Flash as “worthless.” Do you agree that a living creature can be worthless? Why or why not? Consider some examples from history, the Bible, or your own experiences in which a person (or creature) unvalued by society came to make an impact on the world. What characteristics (if any) do they share?
- Flash’s “ears were a key part of his communication – a silent form of expression that delighted us.” What could the Ridges tell about Flash’s mood by watching his ears? Think of a friend or family member to whom you’re close. What nonverbal cues might you notice that show what that person is feeling – things a casual acquaintance might miss?
- In chapter 2, Rachel contrasts the names she calls herself (e.g., inadequate, afraid, failure) with the names God gives her (e.g., precious, found, enough). What would your own names be? Write the God-given names on a card and place it where you can see it every day.
- Think of a time when you, like Flash shivering outside his barn or Rachel suffering a tragic loss, have needed shelter. What were the circumstances? Where was your refuge – the place or people who brought you in out of the cold? What did you learn about yourself, God, and your relationships from that difficult time?
Week 2: Chapters 4 – 7; Discussion Questions:
- What changed for Flash after he had the opportunity to run with horses? What longings or new adventures do you want to pursue in your own life? Does something need to change in your circumstances to make these dreams a reality – and can you begin running after them in some way today?
- One of Rachel’s childhood teachers discouraged her in a way that made a big impact on her life and future. Think back to your own childhood: Did you have a teacher or role model who either affirmed or dismissed your dreams? If the former how did that encouragement shape your life? If the latter, what changed when you were told you couldn’t do it? In what ways does Rachel’s own story show that it’s never too late to try again?
- What characteristics do Rachel and Tom show in their endeavors – whether it’s learning the ropes at a new business, facing life’s challenges, or adopting a stray donkey? Where in the process do they most struggle, and where do you see them thrive?
Week 3: Chapters 8 – 10; Discussion Questions:
- Consider the many different friendships Rachel describes in the book. Which one resonates with you most and why? If you were to write your life story, which of your own friendships would be most significant to include? How have you learned from each other and grown together?
- Think of your own pet, either one you have now or a beloved one from your past. If he or she had a “To-Do” list like Flash’s, what would be included on it? How has this animal, quirks and all, enriched your life – either through joy or sorrow?
Week 4: Chapters 11 – 13; Discussion Questions:
- It’s safe to say that Flash welcomes change,” Rachel says, “just as long as nothing is different or altered in any way.” How does his attitude toward change contrast with that of others in the book – Rachel and Tom, Bridgette, even Beau? Who are you personally most like and why?
- What are some of the unique things that animals can teach us about love?
Books below are from FALL 2015 – SPRING 2016 study:
Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now, led by Susan Carter of St. John’s, Helena, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joanna Siebert, Interpreting the World to the Church, Volume 2: Sermons for Special Times, led by the Rev. Joanna Seibert of St. Luke’s, North Little Rock, email@example.com
Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, led by Anne Fulk of Christ Church Little Rock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Moorehead’s Between Two Worlds, led by Peggy Cromwell of St. Nicholas’, Maumelle, email@example.com
Lauren Winner’s Wearing God, led by Katie Taylor of St. Luke’s, North Little Rock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ranya Idliby’s The Faith Club, led by Wanda Dunwoody of St. Luke’s, North Little Rock, email@example.com
Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, led by the Rev. Mary Vano of St. Margaret’s, Little Rock, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joan Chittister’s Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, led by Judith McClain of Christ Church, Little Rock, email@example.com
Alan Morinis’ Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, led by Merrie Helen Hedges of St. Peter’s, Conway, firstname.lastname@example.org
BOOK FOR MAY 2016
Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, by Alan Morinis
Jewish by birth, though from a secular family, Alan Morinis explored Hinduism and Buddhism as a young man. But in 1997, in the face of personal crisis, he turned to his Jewish heritage for guidance. In his reading he happened upon a Jewish spiritual tradition called Mussar. Gradually he realized that he had stumbled upon an insightful discipline for self-development, complete with meditative, contemplative, and other well-developed transformative practices designed to penetrate the deepest roots of the inner life.
Eventually reaching the limits of what he could learn on his own, he decided to seek out a Mussar teacher. This was not an easy task, since almost the entire world of the Mussar tradition had been wiped out in the Holocaust. In time, he found an accomplished master who stood in an unbroken line of transmission of the Mussar tradition, and who lived in the center of a community of Orthodox Jews on Long Island. This book tells the story of Morinis’s journey to meet his teacher and what he learned from him, revealing the central teachings and practices that are the spiritual treasury and legacy of Mussar.
I’m Merry Helen Hedges, a Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. I am retired after 23 years of serving altars at St. Michael’s Little Rock, Trinity Cathedral Parish, Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock, and St. Peter’s church in Conway, Arkansas. I continue to be involved in Servant Leadership work and spiritual direction in the Diocese.
My Reasons for choosing this book are multiple.
First, I have spent the last few years studying and practicing contemplative prayer in several forms from a Christian perspective because I am a Christian. The closer I get to a relationship with Jesus the Christ in my everyday life experience the more I realize he is a Jew. He offers that wonderful earthy Jewish understanding that all creation is God’s and belongs to God who shares it with us.
Second, A good friend at church gave me Alan Morinis’ book saying, “I think you will really like it” and I found it absolutely refreshing. It reminds me of what a noted Bible scholar, Ched Myers, has said, “ If you only read the New Testament it’s like seeing only the last 15 minutes of a movie.” Jesus spoke to his followers from the Jewish writings and I am a follower of Jesus.
Third, From the growing experiences of interfaith dialog taking place in our world today I see and read about this Great Convergence of world faiths; how intertwined and familiar many of the concepts in the Abrahamic faiths are; how lovingly and attractively the poetry of Sufism sits on our hearts; what Buddhism and Hinduism have brought to our contemplative life. And now this Jewish practice, Mussar.
So here is a book about Jewish spirituality or soul transformation. It offers very practical ways to grow in our faith and humanity. It is best done in a community or with another person to walk with us in order to climb this ladder to consciousness, but it is worth it.
A key lesson of spiritual practice — do it now when you don’t need it, so you’ll have it when you do. Lama Geshey Dargey
- Introduction, Chapters 1-3
- Chapters 4 – 6
- Chapters 7 – 9
- Chapter 10 and Conclusion
Please create your own questions and comments for each “Gate” that is opened in this book.
Introduction: We share with our Abrahamic sisters and brothers this Patriarchal story of Jacob traveling into the desert where he laid his head on a rock and had a dream in which he saw a ladder with its base planted firmly on earth and its top reaching into heaven. Angels were ascending and descending the ladder. Morinis writes, ‘This appears to me a good image for the spiritual life.’ I think of the rungs of the ladder as steps toward consciousness.
- What life experience started you on your spiritual journey?
- Consider together this statement; ‘Despite what I consider my “fall,” I had never lost the sense that deep inside me, as in all of us, there was a still, deep pool of goodness.” Pg 19.
- “We can make the changes that will set free the radiance of our inner light.” Pg 18
Gate 1. Starting Out: pg.28 , ‘Although it was the brilliance of these insights that had drawn me deeper into Mussar, I had now come to the point where I needed more than books. The theory was great . . . I needed to see how the wisdom of Mussar translated into the living qualities of someone who walked its path.’
- How does community or another wise person help you choose to walk the path you feel called to walk both within and without? ‘Another soul out on God’s road.’
- How do you see yourself as “soul.” Pg 30
- Pg 34, What am I here for? We have the opportunity and the privilege to step back and ask this question.
- Pg 42, . . . he made a Mussar lesson of this teaching . . . ‘You have to look inside yourself with honesty to see if you have any self interest in the advise you are giving.’ What do you think or feel about this?
- AWARENESS, two kinds: Try what is suggested . . . the rubber band, contemplative prayer. Share your experiences of awareness.
Gate 2. The Soul: ‘The soul fills the body as God fills the world.’. . .
- Pg. 61, All the functions of the physical body, body, mind, soul, make up the soul. These are all aspects of the undivided inner being.
- ‘A soul perspective’ knits the inner life back into a whole. What I am about to do … Is it good for the soul? Exercise? Good nutrition? Good sleep? Are these good for the soul?
- This reminds me of Lectio Divina? Have you experienced this?
- Do we know what is meant by “acutely realizing God’s presence”?
- Is there a gap between what you know in your mind and how you live your life? … your inner life and outer life?
Gate 3, The Gate of Growing: “This desire to rise up, heal, improve is innate in all humans.”
- Rabbi Perr thinks ‘ this same innate human drive causes us to do the simple everyday things like shining our shoes and bringing more kindness to our relationships.’
- Tikkun, the desire to make things better. How to develop a taste for this desire?
- Share the biblical story of Jonah and the “penetration of the heart”.
- How is the heart the center for spiritual growth? Choose your holy words. Practice chanting the words and emotions aloud, vigorously! Record your experiences and share them.
Gate 4: The Gate of Holiness: “ The path for one person is not the same as the path for another. It ( Mussar ) doesn’t propose a one-size-fits-all path.” Rabbi Perr
- How might you be inspired to seek the holy, here and now within you, not because you must or you fear punishment in the future, but because you can?
- Take on the ideas of perfection and wholeness, the value of tradition and everyday experience. Reflect and discuss your ideas and experiences.
- Mussar is the practical discipline for becoming holy. The path for sanctifying one’s deeds. Pg. 87
- Try out the Food Meditation on pg. 87.
- Discuss ‘resurrection’ in light of this Gate of Holiness. Humility?
- What is a good practice for you? Pg. 91
Gate 5: The Gate of Good and Evil: ‘But the Right Attitude, that requires a lifetime of cultivation.’ Rabbi Perr.
- In Mussar, yetzer ha-ra is defined as the force which drives us to commit deeds not in the best interest of the soul, ours or someone else’s.
- How does this force manifest in your life?
- ‘Yes, Virginia, there really is evil.’ Pg. 97. ‘What we really need to be concerned about is the evil that runs like a dark stream in every human heart.’ Pg. 98
- Pg. 100. The word /idea of Sin is introduced. What do you think?
- Developing Self – Awareness practices. ‘ with a little effort you can elevate yourself one notch closer to being the person you already are in your pure depth.’
Gate 6: The Gate of Fear of God: ‘ How do we understand our relationship to God? By understanding how human beings work. Imagine what it means to God for you to serve Him not to receive anything?’ pg 127
- So yirah can mean “fear” and it can also mean “ awe”. Which of these meanings do you relate to mostly?
- Mussar provides us with choices that take into account differences between people.
- Contemplation of the grandeur of God, walking yourself through levels of appreciation. Try the model for digestion. Pay attention and be amazed!
- ‘Imagery held vividly in the mind imprints itself directly to the heart, bypassing the intellect.’ … a “felt” meaning.
- How might yirat ha-shamayim, the fear of God/Heaven, help you develop a greater sensitivity to the way your words and deeds affect other people and impact the world?
Gate 7, The Gate of Trust in God: Bitabon means trust in God. Bitabon is a soul trait. ‘The essence of trust is the tranquility of the soul enjoyed by the one who trusts.’ Ibn Pakuda pg 138
- Trust doesn’t relieve us of our obligation to act. What about reliance on miracles?
- A paradox … everything is decreed from on high and yet we still have free will and an obligation to act on our own behalf. What do you think?
- When our bitabon is weak, we lack trust, and this shows up in our life as worry. List your worries in light of Trust as you understand it.
- Read the last paragraph on page 145 together.
- Try transforming your everyday deeds into exercises of bitabon?
Gate 8, The Gate of Working in the World: Our acts are meant to help others and at the same time also to enhance our own characteristic of generosity … or mold some other trait we know needs work in us.
- Do we perceive the needy person before us as a form of the divine image, or is a needy person all we see? Pg. 155
- Can you see certain situations where your intentions to live a holy life could change the way you relate to others? Relate to the world?
- Pg.160. ‘I’ve come to see that anybody who wants to help the world has a virtual obligation to work on his or her own inner qualities, because any unconscious biases or untempered emotions that sulk in our dark inner reaches will inevitably hitch a ride out into the world on the backs of our well-intended deeds …
- Have you discovered compassion hidden under anger as described by Morinis?
- Discuss what Morinis writes about right speech and silence.
Gate 9, The Gate of Duties of the Heart: But for me, the ultimate test of any spiritual practice has always been and still remains , whether it gives rise to more caring and deeper love in our personal relationships. A. Morinis
- Have you ever found yourself growing and learning in a way that did not include your spouse or loved one?
- Unconditional love is fully present in all our souls. pg. 185. Can you tell a personal story of cultivating, chesed, loving-kindness?
- Do you recall receiving the gift of kindness? Where or when have you given chesed?
- Discuss ways of handling anger, developing patience, or other obstacles to the flow of love?
- Recall good character traits you wish to improve? Bad traits you wish to remove?
Gate 10, The Gift from Deep Within: One of the goals of Mussar is to purify the heart by bring the contents of the unconscious into conscious awareness.
- What tools might you use to do this work of deep transformation?
- What solid commitments are you prepared to make to your Christianity?
- Can you imagine what solid commitments Jesus made to his Jewishness?
The Truth of Our Struggle: ‘I can say that I have learned a new way of living, from the inside, that won’t be very evident to anyone who looks at my house or my car or my family.’ A. Morinis
- Reading about the experience of observing a Sabbath (pg. 206) how would you go about it?
- Discuss with someone your need to keep learning and growing. How does it affect your family?
- Pg.211. Read the second paragraph on the traditional Jewish form of learning and scripture study. How does this speak to the ‘inerrancy’ of Holy Scripture?
- What are some practices that you can put to work in your own life?
- Is it a gift to you to see yourself as a soul and not just a personality or ego? Discuss this.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! What an important word to take from this book. AMEN.
BOOK FOR APRIL 2016
Wisdom Distilled from the Daily
Joan Chittister, OSB
Your book guide, Judith McClain, is a recovering Southern Baptist from Fort Smith, was confirmed at Grace Church in Pine Bluff in 1967 and is now a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock. She is, gratefully – and recently –a retired marketing professional; she has taken liberty with punctuation, but hopefully not grammar.
Wikipedia — sometimes a not-quite-safe source — is responsible for two sentence fragments, but I have not quoted any opinions other than the author. It was, simply, the best summary of the Rule of Benedict (RB) I found.
Our writer is Joan Chittister, O.S.B. http://www.joanchittister.org/. Joan (as she prefers) entered the monastery when she was 17 and has been my favorite Roman Catholic nun for 30 years. As an outspoken feminist in the Roman church, Joan has reliable courage, but has never been silenced. Although I’ve read many of her books (and spent a weekend in her presence – alleluia!), this timeless work continues to be my favorite – my “go to” — when I know somewhere under my endless wondering and wandering are her simple examples of Benedict’s belief that we find God in our everyday lives. Time and again I have prayed for humility or stability or obedience or all the rest and have received surprises.
Benedict’s original Rule is 73 chapters. His daring vision for men in a hierarchical Roman society was “to establish a ‘school for the Lord’s service’ in which the way to salvation shall be taught so that by persevering in the monastery till death, his disciples ‘through patience may share in the passion of Christ …’” They were told to sleep in their habits, work, eat and worship in specific liturgical fashion at specific times. Elections and all the other details of everyday life in community are addressed. It’s a cenobitic life – one of living in a monastery under a rule that exacts obedience to a superior. It is broad and deeply challenging; it is feminine.
Week 1: Chapters 1-4
- The Rule: A Book of Wisdom Joan opens Chapter 1 with the tale of a young disciple asking an elder to walk on water with him in order to ‘carry on a spiritual discussion’. The elder, as elders do, counters the request with a demand for a change of venue from the supernatural to the ground, and here is what Joan says, “…if we are not spiritual where we are and as we are, we are not spiritual at all.” I have found this to be the most difficult of all proposals. And, so, this book begins with a mighty challenge and continues to enlighten us with an approach to the hoped-for enlightenment.
- Listening: The Key to Spiritual Growth. Something always seems to get in the way of our listening. We suspect it’s about fear, but probe deeper. “We prefer to hear to ourselves than to listen to wiser hearts for fear they might call us beyond ourselves.” She asks, “When we are afraid, what message lurks under the fear: a horror of failure, a rejection of weakness, panic at the thought of public embarrassment, as sense of valuelessness that comes with loss of approval?” If we hurt so much, search for so long and believe there are answers, why don’t we listen to the wind that brings the news? Is it an opportunity to open our mind and heart?
- Prayer and Lectio: The Center and Centrifuge of Life “The function of prayer is certainly not to cajole God into saving us from ourselves. … The function of prayer is to change my own mind, to put on the mind of Christ, to enable grace to break into me…To pray when we feel like it is more to seek consolation than to risk conversion…To pray when we cannot…is to let God be our prayer.” Can you step into this? Can you believe that thinking about a difficult issue is prayer?
- Community: The Basis of Human Relationships “We take care of us and nothing else because no greater vision of life impels us and because we lack the sense of human community that requires us to be for others.” This may be difficult to accept. Do you agree? The vision of community depends on stability. How are community and stability interdependent?
Week 2: Chapters 5-8
- Humility: The Lost Virtue Why does Joan name it “The Lost Virtue”? Take some time to describe what humility is and is not. Do the Six Basic Principles ring true to you? How about the degrees of humility? Does a hierarchy of the stages of humility appeal to you?
- Mindfulness: A Blend of Harmony, Wholeness and Balance Why does Joan consider pollution, poisons, plastic and concrete in a chapter on mindfulness? What solutions does she offer? If you were to acquire mindfulness, what would it look like and what might you do differently tomorrow?
- Work: Participation in Creation Joan repeatedly brings us back to balance. What is the difference between workaholism and pseudo-contemplation? What lies in between? Near the end of the chapter she makes five points about the value of work. If we believe her, how will we orient ourselves to a leisure society (chapter 8) when robots will soon be able to perform many more tasks?
- Holy Leisure: The Key to a Good Life What keeps you from turning out the lights after a busy day and enjoying the lovely evening that she describes at the beginning of the chapter? How does she think holy leisure can be effective in helping us be the heart and hands of Jesus? She builds a progression: leisure creates contemplation, contemplation develops meaning and meaning changes our purpose in life. What do you need to do that would help you create a space in your life for holy leisure?
Week 3: Chapters 9-12
- Giftedness: Making Music Together This chapter is full of balancing challenges: individual needs, group needs, individualism, self-centeredness, responsibility, uniqueness. Are they oppositional or mutual? Part of the whole or is the whole dependent on the separate parts?
- Hospitality: The Unboundaried Heart Community and family can be mundane or magical. Discuss the symptoms and needs of each situation. What are our personal and corporate barriers to inviting people into our home (or country) and lives? How can or should we overcome them? Why do the monastics bake their own bread every morning and make and sort their own communion wafers?
- Obedience: Holy Responsibility The word obedience has always sent shivers down my stubborn feminist spine. Do you have the same reaction? If so, did this chapter do anything to dispel your reaction? Once again, Joan sets up “is and is not” statements using words such as: authority, self-determination, domination, approval, responsibility, servility, license, domination. Where do these words fit in her obedience model?
- Stability: Revelation of the Many Faces of God What does her opening with the cross mean to you? “… for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” I was surprised at the militaristic image. Were you? Do you think she means it’s the fight for our life or the fight of our life? Once again she gives us many words that can be descriptors of our lack of stability. Explore some of those words she uses and what roles they play in this chapter. Have you ever experienced a sense of stability? If so, what was that like? How did you know you were stable? Is it like the minute you think you’re humble, you’re not?
Week 4: Chapters 13-15
- Monastic Practices: The Way of Conversion Name your own practices as they might correspond to those she names. Does she name any new practices that would be important and possible for you to bring into your daily life? Which ones might add an undercroft of spirituality, of the sacred in the ordinary, of conversion that brings with it the necessity of change. Which one(s) would help you “live more easily with yourself”? Help you develop awareness and wisdom?
- Peace: Sign of the Disarmed Heart I think this is the densest chapter in the book and Is full of lists. Make a list of what peace means to you. Read the “imagine” bullet points and pick your favorite. What would it take to disarm your heart? The church? The world?
- The Monastic Vision: Gift for a Needy World It really is about God and us. So simple and so profound; so simple and so awkward; so simple and so unscripted. “Listen with the ears of your heart”, she admonishes. Read this chapter as a summary and find something in it you didn’t find elsewhere. Here is what I found: “Or is there somewhere deep in ourselves a where God of greater dimensions, with all gender and with no gender at all, seeps out to cloak the entire world in life and goodness?” May you always know God is where you are. Happy listening.
BOOK FOR MARCH 2016
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Book Summary: As the spiritual goes, “there is a balm in Gilead”. John Ames is 76 years old in 1956 in Gilead, Iowa. He’s a retired Christian minister, blessed late in life with a young wife and child. As his health fails, he feels compelled to write about his life for the sake of his seven year-old son, who will grow to adulthood without his father. So, he tells the stories of his own father and grandfather, his best friend, and the child named after him who is a deep disappointment. Ames tells his life story with honesty as he struggles to forgive others and himself. Gilead is slow-paced, and yet beautifully develops themes of regret and forgiveness, fear and faith. There is the balm for readers of this illuminating novel.
About the Author: Marilynne Robinson was born November 26, 1943. Her first novel, Housekeeping, was published in 1980 and was the recipient of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. Her next publications were works of non-fiction (The Death of Adam, and Mother Country), until she returned to fiction with her next highly acclaimed novel Gilead. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, and was followed by two more award-winning novels: Home and Lila. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Marilynne Robinson the National Humanities Award for her “grace and intelligence in writing.”
About our presenter, the Rev. Mary Vano: Mary Vano is the rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock. Ordained in 2003, she served a parish in Austin, Texas before following God’s call to Arkansas. She is married to Stephen Vano, with whom she has two sons, ages 12 and 8.
Discussion Questions, Week 1:
- Gilead is told entirely by a first-person narrator, John Ames, who introduces his purpose for writing in the first pages of the book. What is his purpose? What do you learn about the character of John Ames?
- The novel is written as an epistle, without conventional chapter divisions. How does this format shape your experience as a reader? Why do you think the author chooses to tell her story in this way?
- A theme throughout the book will be about the relationships between fathers and sons. How is this theme introduced?
- “It grieved my father bitterly that the last words he said to his father were very angry words and there could never be any reconciliation between them in this life” (p. 11) Why was it important to John Ames’ father to find his grandfather’s grave?
Discussion Questions, Week 2:
- Beginning on page 65, the narrator tells a funny story about a grand tunnel made by overly-zealous townspeople, and a stranger’s horse falling through the road into the tunnel. The story goes on for six pages. What’s the point of the story?
- “If you remember me at all, you may find me explained a little by what I am telling you. If you could see me not as a child but as a grown man, it is surely true that you would observe a certain crepuscular quality in me. As you read this, I hope you will understand that when I speak of the long night that preceded these days of my happiness, I do not remember grief and loneliness so much as I do peace and comfort – grief, but never without comfort; loneliness, but never without peace. Almost never.” What does this tell you about John Ames’ perspective on his life? Where does this perspective come from?
- Throughout his letter, John Ames relates small observances about life to his son. He notes the color of clothing, and remembers the details of common experiences. What does John see in these little things? Why does he want to share them with his son?
- John Ames is a third-generation preacher. How does John compare his ministry to that of his father and grandfather? How do you think John would describe his mission?
Discussion Questions, Week 3:
- John Ames (“Jack”) Boughton is the son of John’s best friend, and his namesake. Yet, John is troubled by Jack. Why? What is so different about the relationship between these two characters?
- How does John write about the Church and its people? How is the Church a comfort to John? How does he describe its foibles and flaws?
- Baptism is another significant theme in the novel. What are some of the moments of baptism, and what meaning do you find in them?
- As the narrator, John Ames offers many moments of insight and wisdom. Do you have a favorite so far?
Discussion Questions, Week 4:
- As readers, we have witnessed John’s struggle with the questions of salvation: what is salvation? who may be saved? What are some possible answers to these questions as seen through the characters of the story?
- Where do you see reconciliation take place in this novel? How does it come about?
- Communion has been another recurring theme. How has this theme been presented, and what is its relationship to everyday life?
- How is John Ames’ letter a gift to his fictitious son? How has this book been a gift to you?
BOOK FOR FEBRUARY 2016
The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, Priscilla Warner
Amazon says about this book: A groundbreaking book about Americans searching for faith and mutual respect, The Faith Club weaves the story of three women, their three religions, and their urgent quest to understand one another.
When an American Muslim woman befriends two other mothers, one Jewish and one Christian, they decide to educate their children about their respective religions. None of them guessed their regular meetings would provide life-changing answers and form bonds that would forever alter their struggles with prejudice, fear, and anger. Personal, powerful, and compelling, The Faith Club forces readers to face the tough questions about their own religions.
Pioneering, timely, deeply thoughtful, and full of hope, The Faith Club’s caring message will resonate with people of all faiths.
This month’s presenter, Wanda Dunwoody, is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Little Rock. She is also president of the Episcopal Church Women of Arkansas. Here are her questions for discussion:
WEEK ONE, Chapters 1 – 4
- At their first meeting, each woman gives a brief summary of her religious background. Priscilla calls herself an “enlightened” Jew. Ranya is a Muslim woman of Palestinian heritage and always feels she is an outcast. Suzanne is almost apologetic about her ordinary and safe background. From their detailed discussions, which woman seems to be more grounded in her faith? Keep your answer to this question as it will be asked again in Week Four.
- Priscilla’s reaction to Suzanne’s discussion of the Crucifixion Crisis is enlightening. I have never heard the phrase Christ Killer, page 37, but have heard many times that evangelical Christians believe there will be no Jews left on Judgment Day, page 51. Do you think Jews killed Christ and could the latter statement possibly be the reason evangelicals support Israel?
- Abrahamic religions are monotheistic religions emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with him. The largest Abrahamic religions are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. List some of the similarities these three religions share.
- As we end Chapter 5, it seems the women are really at odds with each other over the explosive topic of stereotypes. Ranya and Priscilla feel Christianity holds the majority position in the United States. What do you think about their stereotypes and misconceptions of each other? What stereotypes do you have?
BONUS QUESTION: In a critique of this book, one woman said it reminded her of a student who decided 2 + 2 = 5 and the student would not stay in the class until the teacher taught what the student wanted to hear. Ranya longed to enter a mosque on equal footing with men and Suzanne is an ex-Catholic who joined the less rigid Episcopal Church. Priscilla considered herself an author and a neurotic Jew. After reading these first few chapters, do you think what these women most desire is to have their religions conform to what they want and need?
WEEK TWO, Chapters 6 – 10
- Suzanne, page 83, feels a person’s spirituality needs to be nourished to thrive. How do you nourish your spirituality?
- Do you agree with Suzanne’s answer to Priscilla’s question as to why God allows pain and suffering to exist?
- The understanding of someone else’s religious beliefs comes slowly. In what ways do you see the interfaith meetings of these three women affecting their approach to each other’s religion?
- The ladies finally get around to discussing prayer. Praying, for Priscilla, is an insurance policy; a means for continued well-being and safety for her loved ones. Do you make deals with God when you pray?
- If you write your profession of faith, what will it say?
- The Israel/Palestine conflict is addressed in these chapters. Have you changed your mind about this issue?
BONUS QUESTION: Do you believe your religion is an accident of birth? Is that why you are a Christian or are you a Christian because of what you believe?
WEEK THREE, Chapters 11 – 15
- Ranya says Islam is not a violent religion, it is a religion of peace and is about God. She also says the violence is a political threat. Do you agree?
- For Suzanne, every sigh is a prayer. Ranya’s prayers are simple and accessible. Priscilla freed herself from the formality of prayer, and that allows her to pray more frequently. How do you pray?
- Priscilla is confused and does not want to be on either side of Holy Land politics, page 216. Ranya tells her she does not have to be on either side of the fence because once she can see things from both sides, she is on the side of compassion and humanity. Will the world be a better place if we all sit on the fence?
- Do you talk about your spiritual life with your friends?
BONUS QUESTION: These three women never call themselves theologians. Do you feel some of their conclusions are more about finding a compromise than an actual answer?
WEEK FOUR, Chapters 16 – 19
- How do you describe political Islam versus religious Islam? Until you read this book, had you thought about there being a difference?
- Have you attended a service of another faith? If so, how did you feel and what did you learn?
- We have all heard that faith grows through doubt. We see Ranya and Priscilla become confident in their individual beliefs and Suzanne’s understanding of her faith changes dramatically. Ranya says it is a choice we make as individuals – to have faith. Do you believe her statement to be true?
- Which of the three women do you now feel is stronger in her faith? Is it the same answer you gave in Week One?
BONUS QUESTION: A teenager asks the authors how to explain the fact that if they believe in their individual religions, does that not mean they think the other two ladies are wrong. What is your answer to this question?
BOOK FOR JANUARY 2016
Our presenter for January, Katie Taylor, a communicant at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Little Rock, has selected a wonderful new book for us to read this month, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. As Katie writes:
In Wearing God author Lauren Winner takes us on a wise and lyrical journey by trying on overlooked metaphors for how we meet and experience God. Chapters on God as clothing, laughter, flame, food, wine, and a laboring woman not only invite us to understand God in a new way, but each reveals God to be much closer and more intimate than we imagine, opening up the opportunity for experiencing and knowing God more deeply. If God has felt distant or absent, or if your reading of scripture has become cold or rote, reading Wearing God can serve as the hymn that revives you.
As Winner has written: “One of the invitations of this book—and, I think, of the Bible—is this: you can discover things about God by looking around your ordinary, everyday life. There is a method here, and it is Jesus’s method. Jesus, after all, specialized in asking people to steep themselves in the words of the scriptures and then to look around their ordinary Tuesdays to see what they could see about holiness and life with God. This is not merely entertaining wordplay to give overactive minds something pious to do. It is the Bible’s way of making us aware of God and of the world in which we meet God.”
As Amazon describes this book: “There are hundreds of metaphors for God, but the church only uses a few familiar images: creator, judge, savior, father. In Wearing God, Lauren Winner gathers a number of lesser-known tropes, reflecting on how they work biblically and culturally, and reveals how they can deepen our spiritual lives.”
Lauren F. Winner, of Duke University Divinity School, writes and lectures widely on Christian practice, the history of Christianity in America, and Jewish-Christian relations. Her books include Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath, A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, and, most recently, a book on overlooked biblical tropes for God, Wearing God. Dr. Winner is also an Episcopal priest and is vicar of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Louisburg, N.C.
Questions to guide your reading
Week 1 – Chapters 1 & 2
Chapter 1 (The God Who Runs After Your Friendship)
- Lauren Winner brings up that often the way we view God informs how we view the world around us and vice versa. As in, perceiving God as distant & judgmental lends one to hold more judgmental views of others, while perceiving God as loving & nurturing tends to cause one to place more value on those traits. Do you see this kind of correlation in your own worldview? Do you think the way a person views God is indicative of the believer’s own personality?
- Did Winner’s metaphor of God as “neglected grandmother” have any resonance for you or remind you of your own faith journey?
- What do you make of the idea of having a “friendship” with God? What links do you see between practicing friendship with God and practicing Christianity?
- What does it mean to be a good friend to God?
Chapter 2 (A Short Note on Gender & Language for God)
- Considering God is not restricted by the male/female dichotomy, that God’s nature is in fact limitless and non-corporeal, why do you think it is that we have limited our expression of God to strictly male pronouns for so long in the Church?
- What pronouns do you prefer to use when referring to the Almighty? Are there any terms you prefer not to use?
- What do you think of the footnote on the bottom of page 30 which mentions that should one use female pronouns, one shouldn’t limit the usage of “She” to only the unproblematic, tender, and nurturing parts of the Bible and theological discussions?
Week 2 – Chapters 3 & 4
Chapter 3 (Clothing)
What did you think of Winner’s interpretation of Adam & Eve’s being given garments of skin in Genesis? Was this the way you had always thought of it, or was it a new perspective? It was a new way of looking at it for me.
- How can Christ be used, like clothing, as a way of either creating community or as a way to build barriers between people? Have you ever seen Christ used this way?
- Think of how you use clothing on a daily basis for protection, comfort, communication, expression of your identity. Now think about the phrase “being clothed in God”. What does that look like for you? Would being mindful of this affect the way you move in your daily life?
Chapter 4 (Smell)
- Incense is primarily mentioned Biblically as a sacrifice which does little more than simply delight and soothe God. What other smells can you imagine God might find pleasing?
- What did the imagery of Christ as a cut and aromatic flower at his crucifixion make you think or feel?
- Paul wrote that, “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…” Jesus is still emitting a scent, embodied by us his followers. What do you imagine the scent of this body in Christ to smell like? What does it mean to “smell like church”? (ref. pg. 78)
Week 3 – Chapters 5 & 6
Chapter 5 (Bread & Vine)
- What kind of bread do you imagine the “Bread of Life” to be?
- How closely is class tied to food, and how does Jesus as the “Bread of Life” serve to break down those barriers between different groups of people?
- Have you ever felt “drunk” on the Holy Spirit or God? Do you feel like that’s an experience which should be actively pursued, or approached with caution?
- Can you see the God of your understanding ever destroying or neglecting His “vineyard”?
Chapter 6 (Laboring Woman)
- Why do you think Christ is described (in Psalm 110:3 on pg. 137) as being born from his Father’s womb? Why do you think the author(s) would have used this phrasing when they possessed the knowledge that men do not bear children? Does it disregard the feminine, or is it attempting to combine both masculine and feminine aspects?
- Do you think redemption is easy for God? Or does God labor continuously to bring redemption in to the world?
- Does picturing God as a laboring woman alter your ideas of what strength can look like? Can God be vulnerable?
- Compare God as a pain-wracked, groaning, panting woman in labor to Christ crucified suffering, and groaning on the cross. Does one image make you feel more uncomfortable than the other?
- Do you think that the Church has too sanitized and glossed over the birth narrative and/or Christ’s crucifixion? Rendered it too “tidy” a doctrine, as it were?
Week 4 – Chapters 7 & 8
Chapter 7 (Laughter)
- Have you ever heard God laugh? What do you imagine that to sound like?
- Laughter is mentioned as being capable of being a form of protest; a means of standing up to an oppressor to show that they don’t hold as much power as they think they do. In what ways did Jesus’ life/ministry embody this form of protest?
- Do you feel there’s room for humor in religion?
Chapter 8 (Fire)
- Can you think of any examples in Jesus’ nature or ministry which illustrated the dual nature of fire? The ability to consume & destroy; the ability to light up the dark & warm the cold.
- In what way is your faith journey similar to fire?
- How has God’s ability to use the fiery process of “refinement” manifested in your own life?
- What practices of self-attentiveness & self-awareness help stoke your own flames?
Week 5 – Chapters 9 & 10
Chapter 9 (The Poverty of Expression)
- How does attempting to speak about God & describe God’s nature make you feel? Is it an exercise in futility? Or beneficial?
- Have you ever really sat and thought about what the words mean in a familiar prayer or Biblical passage? Do you ever find words jumping out at you that you never noticed before that were suddenly filled with meaning?
- I liked the quote on pg. 238, “In the poverty of expression, thou findst that He is all.” Is God knowable? Or will we always be in a game of hide-and-seek with the Divine?
Chapter 10 (A Short Note)
- Here, Winner brings up rather difficult depictions of God found in the Bible as a batterer, rapist, and abuser, explaining why she omitted devoting a whole chapter to exploring these problematic verses. How do you feel about such an omission?
- Do you ever use other scriptures to help put more problematic verses in to perspective?
- How do you wrestle with troubling depictions of God?
BOOK FOR DECEMBER 2015
Our presenter for December, Peggy Cromwell, a deacon at St. Nicholas, Maumelle, and a member of the ECW board, has selected Between Two Worlds: Daily Readings for Advent by Kate Moorehead.
Amazon describes Moorehead’s book this way: “Advent―the season in which we prepare for the coming of the Savior―provokes a certain ambivalence among modern believers. We know that Christ has come in the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, and we live anticipating his return, knowing that our true home is one which he has gone ahead to prepare for us. In the meantime, we are left living between those two worlds. Moorehead uses the witness of the scriptures, her wealth of experience in long years of ministry, and the wisdom of her own life of prayer to guide us in praying the ambiguity of living faithfully between “here and now” and “there and then.”
Kate Moorehead is an Episcopal priest, wife and mother of two. She is currently the rector of St. James Church in Wichita, Kansas.
As Peggy Cromwell describes Between Two Worlds:
“This little book has some real thought-provoking power in it. At the end of each short passage, Kate has provided a reflection to ponder in prayer. As I read through the book, I came up with some additional things to consider. I’ve indicated the Date and Page Number for the additional things. If you want to share your reflections, please do. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.”
1. The First Sunday of Advent (p. 4): “I believe that every human being is blessed with…moments when we are truly awake.” Think of a time when you felt “truly awake.”
2. Wednesday in Week 1 (p. 17): “Do you remember, as a child, smelling dinner as it baked in the over?” What was your favorite childhood family meal (doesn’t have to be a holiday)?
3. Friday in Week 1 (p. 25): “We are holding onto each other…” Whose hand did you hold/trust to get to where you are as a Christian?
4. Saturday in Week 1 (p. 29): “If you are comfortable and not moving, then you cannot be following the Way. No, in order to follow the Way, one must move.” Where is God stirring/inspiring change/movement in your life?
5. The Second Sunday of Advent (p. 35): “The voice of originality cannot be heard amidst the din of our busy lives.” Do you have a practice in which you set aside time just to listen for God?
6. Wednesday in Week 2 (p. 47): “For it is in service that we find ourselves healed.” What “ministries” heal you?
7. Thursday in Week 2 (p. 51): “But the manner in which I spend time with God can vary.” How will you make time for God in the coming year?
8. Monday in Week 3 (p. 70): “Can you edify someone with words today?” Can you edify someone who irritates you in some way today?
9. Tuesday in Week 3 (p. 73): “His fearful avoidance of confrontation with his wife was as destructive as her alcoholism.” Do you have a “blind spot”?
10. Wednesday in Week 3 (p. 78): “The hope of God’s presence, the hope of God’s coming. It is a powerful thing. It can sustain lives.” Is there someone who needs a little hope with whom you can share?
11. Friday in Week 3 (p. 86): “The Kingdom of God cannot be described, it cannot be programmed, but it can be glimpsed.” Is there a time when you caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of God?
12. December 21 (p. 107): “But I want Jesus with skin on.” Who is your “Jesus with skin on”?
13. Christmas (p. 126): “I know you are in pain, suffering.” What are you most afraid of? What is your pain? Share it with God. He came just to be here with us.
BOOK FOR NOVEMBER 2015
Our book for this month, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, is by one of the most respected and widely-read theologians of our time, Marcus Borg. Our presenter this month, Anne Fulk, writes that “this is a small book, but it introduces some ideas that may seem contrary to how you see your knowledge of God and Jesus at this moment.”
Here is what Amazon says about this book:
“Of the many recent books on the historical Jesus, none has explored what the latest biblical scholarship means for personal faith. Now, in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg addresses the yearnings of those who want a fully contemporary faith that welcomes rather than oppresses our critical intelligence and openness to the best of historical scholarship. Borg shows how a rigorous examination of historical findings can lead to a new faith in Christ, one that is critical and, at the same time, sustaining.
Drawing on his own journey from a naïve, unquestioning belief in Christ through collegiate skepticism to a mature and contemporary Christian faith, Borg illustrates how an understanding of the historical Jesus can actually lead to a more authentic Christian life—one not rooted in creed or dogma, but in a life of spiritual challenge, compassion, and community.
In straightforward, accessible prose, Borg looks at the major findings of modern Jesus scholarship from the perspective of faith, bringing alive the many levels of Jesus’s character: spirit person, teacher of alternative wisdom, social prophet, and movement founder. He also reexamines the major stories of the Old Testament vital to an authentic understanding of Jesus, showing how an enriched understanding of these stories can uncover new truths and new pathways to faith.”
Questions for Discussion:
Anne Fulk, a member of our ECW state board and a long-time communicant at Christ Church, Little Rock, writes: “We will look at Borg’s ideas chapter by chapter. Please study and follow up on the NOTES at the end of each chapter – they are invaluable.”
Since Thanksgiving falls at the end of this month, with its many demands of cooking and family time, we are suggesting that you compress this brief book into three weeks, as follows:
Week of November 1–7
- Marcus Borg describes his stages of faith as a child and at other points in his life. Where do you identify with him? Where do you differ?
- Are there significant hymns that have strong meaning for you? Using the Hymnal, share a few with your group.
- Can you describe your relationship with God?
- What are your images of Jesus? Of God?
- The Jesus Seminar of 1985 voted on parts of the Gospels with red, pink, gray and black tokens. Would you like to pick a section or chapter and do this?
- Find a Gospel of Thomas and decide if you would have accepted it into the canon of scripture. Why? Why not?
- Borg lists two “negative claims” about the adult Jesus. Would you agree or disagree? Why?
- Which description of Jesus resonates with you? A) a spiritual person, aware of the reality of God B) a teacher of wisdom C) a social prophet D) a movement founder – to revitalize Judaism. Why?
- Is this helpful in describing your relationship with God?
Week of November 8-14
- “Womb” and Bowels”. Are there other concepts to describe compassion?
- Describe how the “Purity System” created a world with sharp social boundaries.
- How would you compare “Be holy (as God is holy”) with “compassionate” and “merciful”?
- How did the Temple Priesthood create a map to order the world? Do we do something similar? How is this managed by our culture?
- What is your favorite Jesus “short story” or “one liner” that is recorded?
- Which “paradox” or “reversal” is your favorite?
- Borg notes that adulthood is “the conformist stage of life.” Can you illustrate?
- Are there other ways selfishness is more than “preoccupation with self”?
- How does one have a transformation in relationship with God?
Week of November 15-21
- How is Christology formed for you in this day and time?
- Borg talks of Jesus in relationship to the Sophia (wisdom as a woman) of Proverbs Chapter One and Eight (and many other places). Discuss this chapter and its implications, particularly the idea of wisdom as the female image of God.
- Borg gives illustrations from the Synoptic Gospels, from Paul and from John’s gospel. Review these.
- Do we tend to literalize Christological language? How? Are we aware of it? How does an awareness of the culture of the time of Jesus affect how his story is presented?
- Borg tells us about the new emphasis on “Story Theology,” and illustrations from the Old Testament. Rehearse in your group the stories of A) The Exodus B) Exile and return C) the Priestly story – and their implications.
- Discuss the “static implications” of the Priestly story.
- How do these “Journey” stories speak to us today?
- Does Borg’s definition of “believing” give you new insight?
BOOK FOR OCTOBER 2015
ECW Readers, our book for October is an offering from Rev. Joanna Siebert, of St. Luke’s, North Little Rock. Below is some information about her and her book, followed by her questions for discussion. She is donating all of the proceeds from her book to Camp Mitchell, so if you would like to help with that initiative you can buy a copy through St. Luke’s by calling (501) 753-4281 and asking for Caroline. You can pick up a copy for $15.00 if you are in central Arkansas, or Caroline will mail one to you for an additional two dollars. Make your check payable to Camp Mitchell. By all means feel free to continue with Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now if your group has not finished discussing that!
Interpreting the World to the Church, Volume 2:
Sermons for Special Times, by Joanna Siebert
Volume 2 has over 30 sermons preached at funerals, weddings, ordinations, after disasters, on saint’s days and for children by an Episcopal deacon who has been a physician for 48 years. The Rev. Seibert responds to her call as a deacon to “interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world” as a narrative preacher. She is a storyteller sharing stories showing the relevance of the gospel on these special occasions to the world where we live and work. Dr. Seibert takes seriously Frederick Buechner’s advice to homilists and writers that the greatest importance is how well the preacher’s words connect to the words inside the listener and how well the listener experiences the gospel during their brief time together. “(It) is not the preacher’s eloquence but the lump in your throat or the leap of your heart or the thorn in your flesh…”
Dr. Seibert is a professor of pediatrics and radiology at Arkansas Childrens Hospital and the University of Arkansas who has been an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church for 14 years. She has served as a deacon at St. Margaret’s Church, Trinity Cathedral, and presently is assigned to St. Luke’s North Little Rock. Other books by this month’s presenter are Taste and See, The Call of the Psalms for Busy People, The Call of the Psalms for People in Recovery, Healing Presence, Interpreting the World to the Church, volume 1: Sermons for the Church Year. She is also one of the editors of the Second Edition of Pediatric Radiology Casebook.
Questions for Discussion
1. List three things that make up a good sermon.
2. How long should a sermon be?
3. Do you agree with the author who quotes Frederick Buechner saying, “It is not the preacher’s eloquence but the lump in your throat or leap of your heart or thorn in your flesh that occurs during their brief time together” that is most important?
4. What are important messages you want to hear in a funeral homily?
5. What should the preacher say in the homily to a bride and groom at their wedding?
6. Should there be a sermon after a disaster or crisis that speaks to this or should the preacher only talk about the text and leave the talk about the disaster to the “talking heads” on television?
7. What is your favorite sermon in this series? Why?
In September, 2015, our former ECW president, Susan Carter, led us in our first book, TheNaked Now by Richard Rohr. The book overview and questions are shown below. To print, click here: The Naked Now Study Questions.
Part 1 – Week One
- The author has some very interesting points on prayer. Some that resonated with me were that prayer is an umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow us to experience faith, hope and love within ourselves. We pray through not to Christ. I especially liked that he compared us as tuning forks or receiver stations for communion with Christ. What points on prayer resonated with you and why?
- In chapter three on page 27, he talks about three men viewing the sunset on the beach and seeing in different ways, introducing the concept of the Third Eye. This concept is a little “slippery” for me. Please give us some of your interpretations of the Third Eye.
- Who would you define as some mystics in our world today?
- “Martha, Martha, you worry about the ten thousand things.” I love the Mary and Martha stories. What do the Mary and Martha stories tell us about balance and our own spiritual lives?
Part 2 – Week Two
- In chapter 10, What About Jesus, the author states on page 72, “Social and Public prayers hold groups and religions together, but they do not necessarily transform people at any deep level.” Do you agree or disagree? What could we do to make public prayers mean more?
- On page 101 Rohr says that the word “prayer” has been deadened by pious use and misuse. He introduces the word “resonance” for prayer, again referring to the tuning fork. Share some ways or experiences you have had making yourself open to receiving the Word in prayer.
- On page 105, Rohr suggests that the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis are ideal metaphors for the two minds. He uses the tree of life as a metaphor for contemplation and the tree of knowledge of good and evil a metaphor for “either-or” dualism. I can’t wait to read your comments on this. Please share.
- What is one additional point from part two that stood out for you and why?
Part 3 – Week Three
- Chapter eighteen poses the question, “what do we mean by being awake.” Jesus admonishes the apostles for not being awake while he goes off to pray. What does being awake in this sense mean to you?
- On page 146, Rohr gives a definition of how he understands paradox: a paradox is something that initially appears to be inconsistent or contradictory, but might not be a contradiction at all inside of a different frame or seen with a different eye. How can religion give us that eye for paradox and mystery? Can you think of an example?
- At the end of chapter twenty he states that we made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God, which turned us into a religion of belonging instead of a religion of transformation. Do you agree or disagree and why?
- At the end of chapter twenty-two (page 160) Rohr say we create our response to the outer world and that, for all practical purposes, is your response to reality. Which of the “if you” bullet points on page 161 stood out for you and why?
Week 4 – wrap-up
- The appendices included a series of exercises for Practicing the Naked Now. Did any of you try some of them? What were some of your thoughts or results?
- I’m sure I didn’t include some points that some of you thought important. What one thing would you have asked about that I didn’t?
About the author – Richard Rohr, OFM
Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and lived kenosis (self-emptying), expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.
Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.
Fr. Richard is academic Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. Drawing upon Christianity’s place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings.
Receive Fr. Richard’s Daily Meditations by email, Twitter, or on Facebook.
About our book leader – Susan Carter
Susan Carter is a member of St. John’s Helena where she is currently ECW President, Altar Guild team leader and member of the choir. She serves on the Arkansas ECW board as immediate past president and was elected at the 2015 Triennial to serve as Vice President of the Church Periodical Club. She is the mother of Liz and Lane and grandmother of Bryant. Interests include needlepoint, reading, acting, the beach and cats! She has been at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas for 33 years currently as Project Director for a U. S. Dept. of Education Title III STEM grant.