Friendly Adult Book Groups
PREPARED BY MICHAEL GIBSON
Book groups have become quite popular in Friends adult religious education.What is perhaps most attractive about this approach is that it can provide numerous opportunities for deep personal sharing. It should be noted, however, that not every book discussion is Quaker just because it takes place in a meetinghouse. This brief pamphlet will explore adult book groups in a specifically Quaker context.
When using any book for a Friends adult forum or class, it is particularly Friendly to keep the focus, in questions and in sharing, on the experience of the participants. Book reports, one-sided debates with the authors, and intellectual discussions have their place, but are better suited to a secular book discussion group. Asking what one thinks about a passage may invite opinions and discussion but may not get to the heart. Questions such as these may lead to richer sharing.
• How does the text speak to your condition?
These are some of the types of questions which I believe keep Quaker adult book groups Quaker!
Not every text is appropriate for a Friendly adult book group. Look for texts that invite deep reflection and sharing. Memoirs, journals, biographies, essays on some aspect of Quaker faith or practice, and explorations of any of the testimonies are some of the many possibilities. It is often helpful for the group itself to play a large part in the selection of the texts. Sharing is usually most rich when those in the group have read the passage under study in advance and have allowed time for the words to roll over in their minds and play in their hearts. It helps for the passages to be short enough to be read in one sitting. Responding off the cuff to material heard for the first time often leads more to shallow reacting than seasoned reflection. There may be times when it is not possible for a group to read in advance. At such times, the passages read together should be brief enough for all participants to comfortably digest; following the reading with a period of silence and a second reading is often helpful. In all cases, the facilitator serves the group best when she or he reads the passage well in advance and gives the material prayerful consideration, taking it to that secret inner place. Queries and discussion questions are richest when they come from a heart illumined by the Light.
Speaking from the heart with openness to the Spirit and to each other inevitably involves elements of vulnerability.There are always the possibilities of being misunderstood, of not feeling fully heard, or of offending someone, even when speaking and listening with love.There are, however, boundaries and guidelines one can lay out at the beginning of the sessions to minimize harm and provide a maximum level of emotional safety. Such guidelines serve to diminish behavior or attitudes that can make vulnerability painful; they help to create optimal conditions for rich sharing where each person feels free to share without fear of attack or of being shamed or blamed. Some suggested guidelines are:
1. Use “I” statements that indicate your own experience, rather than to generalize or assume what others experience.
A good facilitator will respond to any crossed boundaries with calmness and grace, and call for a period of centering silence when voices become agitated or grow louder. A gifted leader can steer the group back when it veers off course into dangerous waters.
The ideal environment for a Friendly book group is one where the participants love and respect one another and listen to each moment of sharing with tender care and compassion. When an individual shares vulnerably in an optimal setting, each of the other participants listens with the same vulnerability and humility. Because each participant both speaks and listens from the heart, no one is judged. In reality, participants will not always love one another, and we know that love cannot be mandated. It is essential that all participants listen with respect even to those whom they find difficult to love. In time, as the sharing and listening continue, love may grow between members of the group and the sharing become deeper.
Adult book groups can be a vital part of any monthly meeting’s religious education program when the sharing is experiential, touches the heart, respectfully honors the whole person, and is conducted within a framework of clear and healthy boundaries.As each participant’s experience of the numinous is expressed uniquely, the discussion of a text that invites deep reflection can provide a rich forum for enriching relationships and for coming to know one another in that which is eternal. May the Light shine in all our Quaker religious education work!
The Quakers In America - Paperback
An Introduction To Quakerism
Listening To The Light
Silence And Witness
The Journal Of George Fox - Nickalls Edition
Friends For 350 Years
Truth Of The Heart
The Journal And Major Essays Of John Woolman
Twenty-first Century Penn
Light Within And Selected Writings
A Certain Kind Of Perfection
Beyond Majority Rule
Listening Spirituality, Volume 1
On Living With A Concern For Gospel Ministry
Resistance And Obedience To God
Essays On The Quaker Vision Of Gospel Order
A Testament Of Devotion
Let Your Life Speak
Consider The Blackbird
The Faith And Practice Of The Quakers
Encounter With Silence
Reading The Bible Again For The First Time
Sins Of Scripture
A History Of God
The Great Transformation - Paper
The Sanctuary Of The Soul
The Testimony Of Integrity
Four Doors To Meeting For Worship
Invitation To A Deeper Communion
Members One Of Another
Sarah Mapps Douglass, Faithful Attender Of Quaker Meeting
A Plea For The Poor
Mysticism And Activism
Being Faithful As Friends
A Days Work
It's Earth Day!
Before And After
Geography Of Light