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Saturday, July 14, 2007
Eat Pray Love By Elizabeth Gilbert
I'm excited for our discussion of Eat Pray Love, the story of Liz Gilbert's one year journey abroad in search of herself, God and balance. The following is taken from the Penquin discussion guide, accessible here. The website also contains a good introduction and an interview with author Liz Gilbert. My additions to the discussion guide are in bold.

1. After imagining a petition to God for divorce, an exhausted Gilbert answers her phone to news that her husband has finally signed. During a moment of quietude before a Roman fountain, she opens her Louise Glück collection to a verse about a fountain, one reminiscent of the Balinese medicine man’s drawing. After struggling to master a 182-verse daily prayer, she succeeds by focusing on her nephew, who suddenly is free from nightmares. Do these incidents of fortuitous timing signal fate? Cosmic unity? Coincidence? How do you feel about spiritual experiences that take place outside of a Christian context? How do you respond emotionally and intellectual to non-Christians who share their spiritual experiences with you?

2. Gender roles come up repeatedly in Eat, Pray, Love, be it macho Italian men eating cream puffs after a home team’s soccer loss, or a young Indian’s disdain for the marriage she will be expected to embark upon at age eighteen, or the Balinese healer’s sly approach to male impotence in a society where women are assumed responsible for their childlessness. How relevant is Gilbert’s gender? What was your emotional response to Gilbert's decision to prioritize being true to herself over marriage, having children and living a conventional life? Did her choice to leave her marriage and not to have children effect your impression of Gilbert as a woman?

3. In what ways is spiritual success similar to other forms of success? How is it different? Can they be so fundamentally different that they’re not comparable?

4. Gilbert mentions her ease at making friends, regardless of where she is. At one point at the ashram, she realizes that she is too sociable and decides to embark on a period of silence, to become the Quiet Girl in the Back of the Temple. It is just after making this decision that she is assigned the role of ashram key hostess. What does this say about honing one’s nature rather than trying to escape it? Do you think perceived faults can be transformed into strengths rather than merely repressed? How has accepting who you are liberated you to minister to others?

5. Sitting in an outdoor café in Rome, Gilbert’s friend declares that every city—and every person—has a word. Rome’s is “sex,” the Vatican’s “power”; Gilbert declares New York’s to be “achieve,” but only later stumbles upon her own word, antevasin, Sanskrit for “one who lives at the border.” What is your word? Is it possible to choose a word that retains its truth for a lifetime? What do you think Jesus' word is? Do you think this idea is similar to the special name believers are given in the book of revelation? How do the words and names we receive (from others, God and ourselves) impact who we are and who we become?

(edited to change format)

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posted by Jemila Kwon at 10:45 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 7/15/2007 08:37:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Okay, so I'll get to the real questions sometime soon when I have a fully functioning brain. but I'll just say now that I loved this book. It was a fun read, but I found amazing insights about life and spirituality all through it.

  • At 7/16/2007 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    On the first question. I grew up being told that any spiritual experience outside of christianity was caused by demons. But after reading in scripture about God working though other religions - (Mars Hill, Hagar's experience, namaan...) I've come to see that God is much bigger than the boxes I had placed him in.

  • At 7/16/2007 11:02:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yes Julie, I agree. I sometimes struggle with the line between universalism and the uniqueness of Jesus' revelation and how I understand God's love and what Jesus' life, death and resurrection mean on a universal scale. Does it matter if someone thinks Jesus' died for their sins and rose again? Or does it only matter that people tap into Truth and Grace? Is redemption only available because of what Jesus did on the cross or was the cross an illustration of what God is always doing, all the time, for everyone, regardless of creed, culture or belief?

  • At 7/16/2007 11:39:00 AM, Blogger Lydia

    How do you feel about spiritual experiences that take place outside of a Christian context?

    I'm intrigued, but I'm more wary of them than I am of my own experiences. (Then again, I do this in other areas as well. I'm ;) )

    What was your emotional response to Gilbert's decision to prioritize being true to herself over marriage, having children and living a conventional life?

    Just responding to the idea of it, as I haven't read the book...but I am proud of her for making the right decision for her life.

    It isn't easy to buck the status quo. It took me a long time to realize that God isn't angry with me for having no interest in parenthood.

    I grew up thinking that marriage and children were a "package deal," that I couldn't have one without the other.

    So I assumed that marriage wasn't in the cards for me either, as most people in the dating pool do want children...especially when one lives in a town that is small, conservative, and religious as I did at the time.

    And then I met Drew. ;)

  • At 7/16/2007 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Lydia, I'm proud of you too! And I'm glad you found Drew :)

  • At 7/17/2007 07:57:00 AM, Blogger Kimberly

    I really enjoyed this book. I find it interesting how other people process their journey. The first question, “How do you feel about spiritual experiences outside of the Christian context”, struck a chord with me as I have thought a lot about this the past few years in my wanderings outside of fundamental Christendom. I was brought up to believe there are two kinds of people in life, those who had said the “prayer” (to invite Jesus in their hearts) and those who hadn’t. Those who had were going to heaven and had the benefit of the Holy Spirit to guide them in their lives, those who hadn’t would spend eternity in hell and basically lived “wailing and gnashing of teeth” kind of lives here on earth too. Pretty fear based all around which kept me in my place until I experienced the death of a child and started poking around asking questions. Much was stripped away in my faith. Whittled down, the “christian experience” for me is not some charismatic or “supernatural” thing (not sure what I think about all that but am skeptical on many levels), but the working out of loving God, my neighbor, and myself. Many years ago now, I began making significant friendships with those who were “non Christians” and found to my surprise they weren’t much different then me in wrestling with the struggles of life and wondering what it was all about. My neighbors, who might have loosely called themselves Christians, but who had never said the “prayer” and never went to church have taught me much about what it means to actually “love your neighbor”. Now that I live on a boat, I am continually amazed and humbled by the kindness and generosity of “strangers” who are in essence being Jesus, but who would never think to call it that, causing me to wrestle through the actual definition of “christian.”(perhaps we do away with the word altogether?) Always I am blown away by God who seems intent on coloring outside our lines. Although outside Christian context (but not outside of Gods) I certainly saw different aspects of God as I read about Gilberts overall experience-mainly through the people she met, her own journey, and the exploration of the world around her.

  • At 7/17/2007 09:22:00 AM, Blogger Dianne

    Kimberly, I just loved your response. It mirrors many of my own thoughts. I've just begun to peer outside the "box" of the Christianity I was raised with and surprise, surprise. God is out there too!

    I haven't read this book but will probably do so soon.

  • At 7/17/2007 08:32:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Kimberly, I can only begin to imagine what it is like to lose a child; that you are on the adventure you are and not curling up inside a black hole is amazing...I have a great admiration for you. I like what you said about discovering that people are not really very much different than you...this common humanity is so alive!

    It is remarkable to see how life can shake what we believe or reveal what we truly believe under our external facade of certainty.

  • At 7/17/2007 08:34:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I think my word may be create...but I'm not sure.

  • At 7/18/2007 09:34:00 AM, Blogger Lydia

    Thanks, Jemila. :)

  • At 7/18/2007 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Searching4meaning

    3. In what ways is spiritual success similar to other forms of success? How is it different? Can they be so fundamentally different that they’re not comparable?

    I think that this is a fascinating question. My first impression is that spiritual success if vastly different than other forms of success. Sometimes it is when we do things that by worldly standards are judged as a failure that we make some of our most profound steps to understanding ourselves as spiritual beings. I have recently left my job as a respected mainline preacher to explore my own spiritual being and feel like I have grown closer to the divine than I ever did in the "church." Yet my actions are viewed by many as a complete failure to play by the denomination rules.

    However the term spiritual success does not seem to fit. I think we learn as much from our spiritual highs as we do from our "dark nights of the soul." As someone said spirituality is about the jouney not the destination. I don't think we ever succeed or arrive spiritualy.

  • At 7/18/2007 11:19:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    I just got the book Saturday and haven't finished yet (I'm on the beginnings of Indonesia at the moment).

    I'm really enjoying this book. I found her descriptions of spirituality and encounter with God very descriptive and powerful. It doesn't fit into much of what I was taught in church, but I cannot discount it. Jemila, your question, "Does it matter if someone thinks Jesus' died for their sins and rose again?" is somewhere that I often get stuck. I don't have the answers. But, I have come to the conclusion that my responsibility is to follow, to serve and to love both God and others. I can only be responsible for me. That frees me up tremendously to really think and respond to other's experiences and not have to label or compartmentalize.

    Regarding her choice to move away from a conventional life, I admired her greatly. Having seen people I love go through divorce, it is such a broken experience and I ache that she experienced that. Although I lived in some denial as to what parenthood actually entails, I wanted children. And yet, some days I am so tired and long so much for freedom. I cannot imagine having children going into it with her dread. Although she may have been surprised at how much she loved it, most likely it would have been very, very difficult. Anyway, all that to say that making the choice not to follow the "norm" takes a lot of guts and I applaud her for that. And you, too, Lydia!

    Questions 3, 4 & 5 still need a little working out, so I'll come back to those later.

    Kimberly, thank you for sharing some of your journey in understanding spirituality. I really appreciate what you shared.

  • At 7/19/2007 07:32:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    s4m, I appreciate your reflections. So many times are spiritual "successes" are either the birth following a hidden gestation or sometimes just good fortune that leads us to a place of praise.

  • At 7/22/2007 09:10:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Amy, I really empathize. It is an impossible, yet beautiful and transforming dance to parent and love your kids and also find your own center, walk out the fullness of your calling and be at one with God, self and others. Community and solitude are harder to balance when you have little kids!

    I also respected Liz Gilbert for her adventuresome spirit and her courage to step out of the cookie-cutter laid life lying ahead of her into a life of her and God's outside of convention.

    In a certain sense I was inspired, and in a certain sense I was both intimidated and a little simultaneously jealous and judgmental. I caught myself thinking, "well sure you can meditate all day and experience being held in the hand of God because you don't have anyone to answer to but yourself and God and all your time is your own and you got a great book deal, so you're getting paid to do what you feel like/are led to do."

    Of course I felt guilty for thinking this way, both because I love my kids and feel guilty for that sometimes pull toward the peace and joy of being on my own without being responsible for other people constantly, and also because I would like my attitude to reflect celebration of other human beings' joys, discoveries and freedoms. I am moving in this direction.

  • At 7/24/2007 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Jemila, that balance is a challenge! When I was pregnant with my 3rd I used to dream of being back in college and those days of freedom. I didn't really enjoy the bliss of that freedom at the time.

    That's actually something I took out of the book. This is the life I have chosen, and really, the life I love. This is the life God has graced me with. My challenge is to try to find a way to live in it, inhabit it and dwell in balance there. For me, that brings a bit of anxiety, but also peace.

    It's like her epiphany when she was trying to be "quiet girl". God created her a certain way and God resides in her/with her in that personality. It's difficult for me to find balance, but at the same time releasing the tension of trying to be something I'm not is freeing. It's the same with my family.

    Realizing who God has made me and the incredibly family God has given me and then treasuring these gifts bring peace because I no longer have to cram either into a mold that doesn't fit.

    I did feel jealous of her, though. Ohhh for a paid year of adventure and devotion!!

  • At 7/25/2007 05:17:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    You said it, Amy :)

  • At 7/26/2007 11:30:00 PM, Blogger Happy

    So our oldest is on a kick right now where about every 5 minutes he says "too bad we didn't" or "too bad we can't", etc... and by lunch time today, I'd had it. So when "too bad we didn't..." came up again after he'd specifically been told not to say that again today, I looked him in the eye and said, "Tell me 5 things you're grateful for." He thought of 3 right away, the other 2 took a minute - but by the time he was done, he looked a lot happier, and I was, too. Reflecting on that experience later today over coffee with a girlfriend, however, I realized that the reason this little litany of "too bad..." has been driving me so crazy is that it is exactly the attitude I've been taking with God about my own life. In spite of the fact that this IS the life I chose, I am still grumpy about some of it not going quite the way I'd planned or hoped, and have been grumbling in God's direction about it. Whoops. Grace, yes - but I need to choose a better attitude and I see that now. :)

    I'd give a lot for a year to travel tho... I actually think I might start saving to that end, just in case God ever says to go for it. :) I'm almost done with the 1st section on her days in Italy, and I'd give a lot for even two weeks there at this point. The PMS goddess would definitely appreciate a sacrifice like pizza from the world's birthplace of pizza...

    Jemila, I've been thinking about what you said early on in this conversation: Is redemption only available because of what Jesus did on the cross or was the cross an illustration of what God is always doing, all the time, for everyone, regardless of creed, culture or belief? And I think my thought to that is: both. I do believe with all my heart that Jesus is the only Way - but I also think that God's heart for people is universal and that He works thru any means possible to reach us. I love Lewis' illustration in the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, where the Calormene makes it into the true Narnia because he's faithfully served Tash, blind to the fact that Tash was nothing like Aslan at all... I suspect we would be shocked if we could truly realize the scope of God's work throughout all time and amongst all peoples. I remember hearing a story once about a tribe (somewhere in either India or Africa, I forget now) to whom Jesus appeared and He taught them how to live and how to worship Him and everything else they needed to know - except His Name. Years later, missionaries arrived on the scene and found a functioning Christian society - whose leaders simply asked, "Who are we following? He said you would come and tell us His Name."

    Wow. Talk about coloring outside the lines. God is amazing.


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