Woman To Woman (The Ministry Of A Reading Group)
By Carol Garklavs
“Gregory of Nyssa points out that Moses’ vision of God began with the light, with the visible burning bush, the bush which was bright with fire and was not consumed; but afterwards, God spoke to him in a cloud. After the glory which could be seen with human eyes, he began to see the glory which is beyond and after light.
The shadows are deepening all around us. Now is the time when we must begin to see our world and ourselves in a different way. “
The words above are the final lines from Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Circle of Quiet. This was a book I simply could not imagine reading and failing to discuss with someone. There are private books or poems that one savors alone, like a child sucking a solitary lemon drop. But then there are those you can’t even finish before you give it to a friend and say, “Here, read this.” This was one of those books, and that was how our reading group began.
I am the wife of a priest. The parish which is our home has been a real gift from God for me because it offers an opportunity to grow spiritually within the context of a real Christian community. This is not easy, to live as a Christian in community with others. There are always many crosses and tests. So, the idea came to me that some of the women of our parish could “lift each other up” by sharing our thoughts and experiences, weaknesses and strengths; within the context of a reading group.
Madeleine L’Engle’s trilogy of journals, A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great Grandmother, and The Irrational Season seemed to offer just the kind of thought provoking reading that would suit our purposes. L’Engle is an author of many books for children and adults and her Christian spiritual vision permeates all of her work. She integrates within herself and her writing all that she is: woman, author, wife, mother, grandmother and her spirituality is truly mature and “orthodox” and not at all pietistic.
A group of seven of us met monthly to talk about what we’d read. It was wonderful to get to know each other better within the framework of discussing L’Engle’s ideas about the spirituality of the ordinary in family life. We often digressed and shared some rather touching moments with each other. The Holy Spirit came to us as “Comforter and Spirit of Truth,” as we’d prayed He would at the beginning of our meetings.
Sad to say, the busy-ness of our lives took over, and after what was to have been only a summer hiatus, we “fizzled out.” But I treasure, and I hope the others do too, the bond I felt grow within our little reading group. Our “circle of quiet.”
FORMAT FOR A READING GROUP
1) As the leader or organizer, choose the first book or selection of reading for the group. Find out and indicate where copies of the selection can be borrowed or bought.
2) Determine and let the group know what portion of the book or selection will be discussed at the upcoming session. Ask those who will be attending to note passages they would like to discuss.
3) At the group meeting -
Begin with prayer.
Introduce the book or selection with some background information, and then some reflections or questions that would get the discussion started. (10 min.)
After the initial discussion, move around to the others in the group, asking for the passages or questions based on the reading that they would like to discuss.
Guide the discussion so that everyone who wants to, has a chance to contribute thoughts. Be prepared to help anyone who might monopolize the time, share it with others.
End with prayer.
Group members may want to take turns serving light refreshments.
4) The same leader can suggest a second selection, or group members may want to take turns at proposing a book and then leading that particular discussion.
5) As people are more willing to commit to a limited time frame, it might be wise to establish a specific duration of time for the reading group, e.g., a Fall session, a Spring session, and the frequency of meeting, once in two weeks, once a month. See how it works out the first time around and then adjust accordingly.
Groups can be formed by word of mouth, if you want to keep them small, or through the parish’s bulletins, announcements, newsletters or flyers. If there are not enough interested readers in your parish to form a group, this would be an excellent opportunity to invite those in near-by Orthodox parishes to join in. It could, of course, be a men’s group, or a mixed group of men and women.
Place of meeting can be a central location such as the parish hall, or it can be held at the homes of participants, taking turns. The latter is a bit more personal and more conducive to forming friendships.