Chapter 2: Reading Guide

Chapter 2: Awakenings

1/ What strikes you most in Chapter 2? Are there images, ideas, or insights that resonate especially with your experience or spiritual journey?  

2/ “It is like coming home to a place we have never been before.” Have you had the kind of experience that Pramuk describes with his son Henry, or that Thurman describes of “oneness” or “unity”? What was the impact? Temporary? Sustained? Did it change you?

3/ What do you make of Thurman’s link between the realization of God and social or ethical concern for others? Is gratitude or wonder or amazement really the deep wellspring for ethical concern and action? What about people who haven’t had such mystical experience?

4/ With Thurman, the author highlights the danger of turning one’s own experience and perspective or “that of my social identity group, into a dangerous idol or prison.” Do you recognize this danger or temptation manifesting in your life today? How does it play out in the communities or social groups with which you most identify?  

5/ What do you make of the phrase ”overdetermined in the flesh,” invoked on p. 30. Have you, or someone you know, experienced this directly or indirectly in social contexts, in places where you live and work?

6/ What is your reaction to the story and analysis of Fatima Yusif (p. 25-28)? With Copeland, the author suggests that condemning individual racists or even horrific acts of mob racist violence is not enough to address the problem of “a threat that is supported by the whole texture and decline of a civilization.” Would you agree with this assessment? How might this analysis apply to contemporary or past incidents in the US? For example, the death of Trayvon Martin? Other cases?

7/ What are some concrete aspects of “the whole texture” of US society—political, economic, religious, demographic—that make racist attitudes, practices, and behaviors (whether individual or systemic) so difficult to combat?

8/Review the discussion of “ressentiment” on p. 20. Do you recognize this “reactive emotional state” in yourself or someone you know? What are its roots? Are there ways through it, in your experience, toward healing?

9/ Chapter 2 concludes by gesturing to living examples such as Jesus and daily contemplative practices that can help us “to live prayerfully from the Heart of God.” Are there people in your life that have modeled for you this kind of presence and way of being in the world?

10/ Which of the endnotes for Chapter 2 most interest you, and why?

11/ Why does Metz (n. 9, p. 171) name both mourning and joy as categories of “resistance to the growing inability to celebrate gratuitous meaning”? How can such seeming opposites be linked?

12/ What do you think of Copeland’s definition of racism (n. 25, p. 172)? Is it complete?  Can a person or group without the power to oppress another in the sphere of social relations nevertheless be racist?

13/ Think about your own “racial formation” as a child and young adult. Can our racial formation, as the author suggests (n. 25, p. 172), be reversed? Transformed? Unlearned “through new experiences, critical education, cross-cultural awakenings”? Can you point to such transformation in your life or someone you know?

14/ What helps you return to that “centering moment” in which you can refocus your life? Are there prayer practices, places, communities? How can we help one another live with greater trust, even confidence, “in the beautiful but perilous twilight spaces” of our pilgrimage in history?

Be sure to check out “Music and Art” for Chapter 2, with links to many rich resources for further meditation, reflection and discussion.

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