Facing Infinity with an Open Mind

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I was invited to check out a book group here in our new City.  Meeting new people while sharing books and ideas is a great combination, discovered by lots of people.  But after my first half hour among them, I knew that this was an unusual and lively spot.  Its composition is large and unexpected.  They all seemed to like each other.   The content requires intellectual and spiritual traveling that takes considerable courage and zest.

What’s The Group About?

The group meets in a United Church, and is composed largely of Church women, with a couple of outsiders like me.  Weekly, up to 19 members meet around a big square of tables for 2 ½ hours and taking turns, read the chosen book aloud, from beginning to end (it may take a month to cover several hundred pages). The ethos is one of unconditional welcome, with license to interrupt with comments if one is so moved.  The choice of books is open to suggestion and preferred titles are those exploring the liberal edge of Christianity.  Here is where the rubber keeps meeting the road, as the challenge to cherished ways of understanding faith are held up to critical analysis by an array of intelligent commentary.  Politics and economics enter the discussion, of course, as members – not obvious radicals – face the implications of old illusions being stripped away in favour of the fundamentals of what Christ came here for.

The average age of the group is, at a rough guess, 75 years. There are several in their late 80’s and a few under 65. If I ever thought that baby boomers had a monopoly on open-mindedness, I’ve had to dump that idea..  Slap on the wrist, for sure.  This is as open-minded yet principled a group as any I’ve had the chance to mentally tangle with.

The Ethos and Atmosphere

The members are also witty, ready to laugh; from chuckles to outright guffaws when there’s a wisecrack.  Their comments are relevant and move the discussion along.  As they assemble, there’s evident pleasure in seeing each person come into the room. (Is this characteristic of a long life: the reappearance of each other every week as a relief, because you can’t take it for granted? [joke]) Some were professional women in their work life and now travel for whatever reasons they like. We take an interest in each other’s adventures and there’s time for telling stories.

Competition isn’t in the air.  Permission to question and disclose is.  One of the few rules is “no apologies for what you’re about to say”.  This was apparently hard to learn and for a while there was a fine for every apology that slipped out.  One learns personal things about one or another and it doesn’t seem jarring but rather appropriate.  I think that is because everyone there has arrived at a point of leaning toward the truth about what matters.  The personal is understood as being intricately mingled with the spiritual.

Big Changes in Vision

 It is the Wisdom Jesus, not the traditional Apocalyptic Jesus, that resonates as theologians and commentators of that persuasion gently argue their positions with a variety of literary styles and approaches.

Many weeks, one or another member will comment on the shift in her previously unquestioned attachment to the ‘faith of our fathers’.  Participating in this book group over several years, some of their old beliefs have been stripped away.  But they don’t seem bereft, left with nothing.  Rather the new ways of regarding God and Jesus are quite vital and true.  Such revelations, of losing and finding, are quite moving.  We can keep growing and changing – here are people doing it.

Trust as One of the Fundamentals

The trust seems to have developed among these women that we are not alone.  We don’t have any idea how creatively the human and holy spirit can function to help us re-invent a way to carry on but we’re trusting that it will.  Before and perhaps even after the end of human life.  I like to think that the women who, like me are more close to the end, are finding newness and confidence in a relationship with a God who can’t be put in our pocket but who is here, among and in us.

Yesterday, a participant in The Jesus Seminar (the scholarly biblical panel that worked through the Bible to find what they could of historical truth) came to speak with the group. Not too scary any more for this intrepid group of seniors who won’t stop questioning and learning. What a remarkable thing – to find oneself among such people.

Are You Part of an Inspiring Group?

If you have a group you’d like to write about, please send to me at david.snelgrove@sympatico.ca.

Some of the 25 books that this group has read since 2005:

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus Borg & N.T. Wright

 The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels by Thomas Cahill

 The Sins of the Scriptures Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love by John Shelby Spong

 What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis

 The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit by Margaret Somerville

 With or Without God: Why the Way we Live is More Important Than What we Believe by Greta Vosper

 The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind: A New Perspective on Christ and His Message by Cynthia Bourgeault

 Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

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3 Comments

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

3 responses to “Facing Infinity with an Open Mind

  1. Piki

    How wonderful for you to have found this incredible group. Old women can be so much joyous fun and this group sounds good. (On the other hand, old women can be such…well…the worst that old women can be.)

    While I don’t share your religious faith, I have always tried to share your ethical faith (as best I can) and the concerns of the group are mine also. Your entry this week has gifted me with a daunting list of books to read.

    with love always, Piki

  2. How about some books by Neale Donald Walsh, such as Conversations With God. That otta shake-em up. If that doesn’t do it, I’ll come and join. tee hee tee hee.
    Actually, they sound like fun. Remember no apology’s.
    Diana

  3. Kay

    As one of the “old women” I would invite you to come and join us and you will soon change your mind about us, old women indeed! We are a vibrant group who celebrate our time and our discoveries together and Rosemary has captured us so well; wonderful to have confirmation from a newby.
    Through our reading, we celebrate the man who was Jesus who has so much more meaning (for me) than the Jesus of the old creeds, the one who teaches us to live with justice and to care for all, and God’s evolutionary creation.
    Kay

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