Putney Friends’s Adult Religious Education Committee is hosting a discussion this winter of Margery Post Abbot’s book To Be Broken and Tender: A Quaker Theology For Today. The discussions will be held on the second and fourth Sundays of each month through April from 9:30 to 10:30 in the Putney Friends Fellowship Room.
Below are the reading schedule (from here on out) and the chapter-by=chapter discussion queries. Anyone is welcome to join the study group at any time–for one week or for several.
Study Guide Queries by Chapter
1. Waiting and Attending
When was there a time in your life when you were aware of an absence, a dull ache, a longing, or something missing close to your soul? What was that time like? What was your response at the time? How does that seem to you now?
Can you sense when there have been conflicting pulls on your life and energies? Can you sense what kinds of activities and choices deadened your spirit and what gave/gives life? What choices did you make that enriched your life?
2. The Consuming Fire
Have you ever experienced a time when your heart and your understanding were opened to God/ the Universe in a new way? What was that like? How has that changed your life?
How has delight grown in you as a result of this opening? Has fear shrunk as a force in your life? Has a new passion for caring for the world (or a tiny part of it) grown in you?
3. Sifting Through Fears
What triggers distress in you? Are you someone, like Isaac Penington, who worries when your heart is at odds with what your rational mind tells you and thus constantly prone to doubts, or is there something else which causes you to ignore the promptings of the Spirit?
When have you ignored the sense that you have acted in a hurtful way and tried to blame it on someone else? What made you do this? What was the result? What steps did you take to right the situation?
In what ways do you wait, hoping someone or something will heal your hurts? Do you find yourself feeling resentful of others who move ahead of you and are made well? What might change this?
How might you sort out Penn’s definition of waiting based on alertness for the “moving of God’s angel” from a waiting which leaves you feeling passed by and helpless? Can you imagine yourself open to the words “stand up, take your mat and walk?”
ENCOUNTERING THE SEED
5. Breaking Down the Walls
Is there a dividing wall between you and God? What does it look like? Does it have openings in it or is it solid?
Ephesians is referring to the hostility between Gentiles and Jews as to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. What might be the hostilities in your life and your community which are a barrier to peace and to right relationship between one another and with God? Can you envision “one new humanity” which is grounded in reconciliation and imagine ways this might come to be?
6. The Nature of God
Have you felt something of the divine within your own heart? What is that like? How might you describe it to others?
What causes that holy seed within you to grow? Do you take time to nourish it?
7. The Light of Christ
What role does Jesus play in your life and faith? In what way does Jesus give an image of what God is like? If Jesus is not central to your life, what person/ image/ concept most inspires you and speaks to you of all that is holy and right in the universe?
How do you explain or reconcile within yourself the existence of evil in the world?
8. That of God in Everyone
When you consider “that of God in every person,” how do you see this bit of God inside you? In what way is your life a pattern and example to others? What actions has this led you to that you might not have taken otherwise?
What tells you when you are acting out of “that of God”? What might Fox have meant about keeping oneself clean as well as keeping clear of spilling the blood of others? The priest and the Levite were faithful to the old rules of cleanliness which kept them from touching the man by the side of the road: what rules in your life keep you from acting out of compassion?
9. The Light That is in Us All
What is eternal in your theology? How would you describe this force/ person/ energy/ Light?
Where do you find your primary written source of inspiration and moral teaching?
10. Spiritual Maturity
How do you imagine “spiritual maturity”? Can you see this in yourself and in others around you? What helps you “grow up in Christ”? What might the “wisdom of the seed” be?
What kind of growth have you seen in yourself over the years? What part does community play in your spiritual growth?
11. Being Present to Others
What is the sowing and the ploughing that Matthew and Margaret Fell speak of all about? If you do not have any experience to draw upon, what might you imagine this to mean? What role do we play in accompanying one another, encouraging one another and bringing each other’s attention to the Eternal Love that is at the heart of the universe?
Does your Meeting seek to attract new people and introduce them to Quakerism? If it does, how does it explain what Quakers are all about? If it doesn’t, do you feel it should? What is your role in all this?
TAKING UP THE CROSS
12. Taking Up the Cross Daily
What is your sense of the contrast between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of words? What do you think she means when she tells us not to teach what “man’s dark heart invents”? Does her warning hold any validity in your life?
What is your concept of the Cross? What might the wisdom of the Cross look like? Does “obedience to the Cross” have any meaning in your life?
What blocks do you have around Christian theology? Does it cause you to cringe, to reject anyone who uses this language, or to label them in some way? If so, what might it take to allow you to drop your defensiveness and to be more at ease with and/ or respectful towards those whose theology seems at odds with yours?
All of us make mistakes and do harm, even inadvertently. How do you address the tension between the wrong you have done and the desire to be right with the world? What allows you to forgive yourself? To ask others for forgiveness? What part does God play in forgiveness?
14. Fleeing the Cross
Think about a time when you were upset about someone else’s actions, then found yourself treating other people similarly or behaving in the same way. What helped you to recognize the behavior in yourself? How does settling into the silence, or otherwise being aware of the Spirit, help you change your response to wrong-doing, either in yourself or in someone else?
What causes you to flee from the cross- from doing something you know is yours to do or from letting go of actions which satisfy your personal desires but damage relationships or are in some way unjust?
How do you understand suffering? Have you ever suffered as a result of your faith? How do you stand with others who are suffering?
When you experience something painful, or hear others tell of their pain, how do you respond? Or when someone hurts you, how do you react? What does the Light tell you about how you might respond?
THE NEW CREATION
16. The City of God
Early Friends knew both the City of God and the Lamb’s War as inward states and as evidence of Christ formed within the human heart. How does your experience of that which is Eternal shape your life?
What is your image of a world made right? Is there a metaphor that sums up your hopes about how humanity will live at peace in the world? If so, what is it and why does it speak to you?
The epistle of James articulates one understanding of how we might live in the City of God. Does this speak to you? How do you recognize the New Creation being formed and lived out in your life?
What is the relationship between compassion and justice? How do you experience that connection?
What tells you when you have acted justly? What did that feel like? What was the response of those around you?
When have you witnessed oppression? What was your response? Was there something different you wished you had done? What might help you respond in the way you wished?
18. Responding to Violence
What is the inward state which allows you to act peacefully even when things are chaotic around you? Has listening to the inward Guide changed your life in a way which opens you to non-violent responses to difficult situations? Where are the struggles or the cutting edge for you as you seek to live without doing violence to yourself, to others and to the world?
Is it ever right to disobey civil law? If so, under what circumstances might that happen? Are there limits to such action or provisions as to how such disobedience should be undertaken? How do you distinguish between the need for separation of church and state and the call to bring all your actions under divine guidance?
How would you (have you) discern when and how it was right to break the law? What guidelines might help you in this process? How might you speak of this to someone who objected to your decision?
19. The Wholeness of the Earth
How do you articulate your own experience of right relationship with the earth, with one another and with God? How does the potential for significant change in worldwide ecosystems change your sense of the wholeness of the earth?
Do Friends bring a distinctive perspective to care for the globe we live on? If so, how would you describe the key features of that perspective?
Humanity has developed great capacity to change the world, from generation of power to manipulation of the human gene. Are there limits to the use of our scientific and technological knowledge? Is it right to act just because we can? How might we define such limits and on what basis?
In what ways do you wait upon God? Are there certain settings which make this more possible for you?
What is your experience of prayer? What place does prayer have in your life?
How easy is it for you to set time aside during each day to listen inwardly? Do you have reminders which make you more aware that it would be helpful to stop – stop talking, acting busily, fuming angrily, etc – so that you might become more centered in the Spirit?
Have you ever been aware of God present in your life, or of being a part of the unity of all humanity, or of angels on your shoulder? What was that like for you? How did it change you?
Do you desire awareness of God in your life but feel it missing? Are you open to the possibility that this may already be true, but in a form you were not expecting? Can you imagine how the Spirit might be present in surprising ways?
22. The Hard Work of Retirement
Many people find solitude difficult, whether it be physical isolation, or simply being quiet within oneself. Is this true for you? What sense do you have of the reasons why solitude is difficult? What might make it more possible for you?
What community do you turn to when you are facing inner darkness? How do its members help you? How do you wish they might help you? How might you help make that more possible?
23. Be Gentle With Yourself
In the silence, do fears and self-doubt or shame arise? What allows you to let these go? Have you ever tried to invite the “demons” into your cave as the hermit did in the ancient story? What was that like?
In the silence can you experience that you are loved? Can you imagine God’s tenderness towards you? How might you be more tender towards yourself?
How have times of solitude satisfied your thirst for God and awareness of all that is holy? What gives your soul rest and refreshment?
TO BE BROKEN AND TENDER
24. Brokenness and Tenderness
How would you describe a Meeting which meets your deepest needs?
Does the concept of denying the self and taking up the cross hold any meaning for you? If so, how would you articulate that meaning? If not, how would you describe the experience of letting go of the ego and willingness to be faithful to the Light?
25. “Something Broken Got Fixed”
How have you experienced being broken? In what ways has that been a healing experience? Has this been a path to forgiveness, of yourself? Of others?
What allows you to stay open to the possibility of transformation within yourself? Within others? Are you willing to speak of your own beliefs and experiences? How do you support and encourage others? Are you willing to be helped and challenged?
26. Breaking the Fear of Death
Have you thought about preparing yourself for death? What has that been like for you? If not, what do you imagine such work to be?
What fears arise when you consider dying? What might break those fears?
27. That Which Must Be Broken Before Finding Peace
What might Fox mean by his assertion that “the peace of all fellowships must be broken before they come into the fellowship of the spirit”? Does this resonate at all with your own experience?
Has your faith in any way alienated you from family or friends, or impelled you to act in ways that they disagree with? What has that experience been like for you? Have you found ways to reconcile with those individuals without compromising your faith?
28. God’s Way and Human Will
How do you understand faithfulness to the leadings of the Spirit? Do the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” hold meaning for you? Could you speak to this?
How would you describe the Way that you seek to follow? What is the role of Divine Guidance in that path?
29. Being a Friend
What is at the core of your faith? Where do you find tenderness when your spirit feels broken?
How might anything which stands between you and God be broken? How might your heart become more Here is the schedule for our meetings on To Be Broken and Tender. I have also attached the queries that come from the back of the book.