Use the expanded list of questions below to prompt individual reflection or group discussion about
The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays.
Or, inquire about scheduling the author to call in to a book group.
Questions for Individual Reflection and Group Discussion
Rest and Play
- Which of the “Rest and Play” essays spoke with you the most? Why?
- In “On the Valuable Use of Time,” the narrator asks, “Do you pour time into a hobby or other interest and feel a tiny bit guilty at the thought that you could have done many other more sensible, productive, profitable, resume-worthy, socially conscious, or otherwise obviously valuable things with your time?” How did you answer that question? If you answered “yes,” describe the kind of guilt you feel. If you answered “no,” why do you think that’s the case?
- In “On the Valuable Use of Time,” the narrator reflects, “Yes, I relish the process of doing it, but how well does that justify the time spent?” How well do you think enjoyment or gladness in an activity justifies the time spent? Was there a time in your life when you thought differently about that? If so, what changed your perspective? If not, are you satisfied with your perspective?
- In “On the Valuable Use of Time,” the narrator wonders if she’s practicing “lacking clarity and finding ways to do that with grace.” In what ways do you find yourself lacking clarity these days? What kinds of grace do you bring to that experience? What might the voice of God sound like or look like in that experience?
- Chapter 2 from Kat’s Dreams involves Kat reflecting on prayer. At one point, she wonders “how many words a time truly need[s] to earn the name of ‘prayer.’” How many words do you think prayer requires? What besides words do you think prayer requires?
- In chapter 2 from Kat’s Dreams, Kat reflects on bike trails as places where she listens for God. Are there places that you find yourself most likely to listen for God and/or to pray? If so, why do you think those places are like that for you?
- “Step Back a Moment” reflects on the concept of Sabbath. What does Sabbath look like in your life? What do you think it looks like in the lives of your family and friends? To what extent do these pictures of Sabbath satisfy you? To what extent don’t they satisfy you?
- “Step Back a Moment” ends with the questions: “Do you have any pauses planned in your own schedule? If not, what kind of pauses do you think your schedule might be able hold?” Regardless of how you answered those questions when you first read them, try brainstorming and coming up with give other ways you might want to answer those questions now.
- “On What We Turn To: On Mountain Biking and Trying Again” describes experiencing communion on the bike trail. Are there places in your life (other than a church setting) where you’ve gathered with others in vulnerable ways and experienced a kind of communion? If not communion, have you experienced your vulnerabilities connecting you in other ways with people you hadn’t expected to connect with? If so, why do you think that situation allowed such an experience?
- In “On What We Turn To: On Mountain Biking and Trying Again” the narrator says, “I couldn’t help but think that many of us might find ourselves bolder and braver at the end of our pandemic and chaotic times, resilient with experiencing these wounded places as exactly the places where we – and life – become new.” Do you remember any moments during the pandemic when something new and promising emerged? If not during the pandemic, do you remember moments during any other time of life when something new and promising came out of a difficult experience?
- In “The Beauty of Rest,” the narrator reflects, “I needed pauses in my days, and I needed them in my value system.” What do you think that means? Do you think that you have pauses in your value system?
- In “The Beauty of Rest,” the narrator admits, “I’m not immune to the call of speed, productivity, and accomplishment. They do measure meaningful things. However, other measures, equally faithful but vastly different measures, do exist. Take rest, for example, and a faithful balance between accomplishment and rest.” What other measures would you add to that list?
- In “The Beauty of Rest,” the narrator describes herself as “experimenting with rest as a faithful choice.” Do you have any more or less difficulty with saying “no” or drawing boundaries in in religious settings and ministry situations? Why do you think that’s the case?
Grief and Memory
- Which of the “Grief and Memory” essays spoke to you most? Why?
- “In the Wake of Pain and the Gold of Care” involves the narrator’s grief for her father. At one point early in the essay, the narrator writes, “I didn’t quite know what to do with myself in those days, and one of the ways I dealt with that involved riding a mountain bike trail near my home.” When were the times of life when you didn’t know what to do with yourself? What did you do during those times that brought some sort of relief to your heart, mind, or spirit?
- At one point in “In the Wake of Pain and the Gold of Care,” the narrator writes, “Like gold that a kintsugi artist uses to fill cracks in what she repairs, a sense of care seemed to have begun flowing through the cracks left in me by my father’s death. His love hadn’t died, really. It was more that I was finding his presence with me in different ways.” Has there ever been a time when you found that the love of someone you lost was still with you in some way? If so, what experiences helped you rediscover (or discover anew) that love? If not, are there times when you remember that person’s love in a new or different light?
- Early in “What to Do with Too Much to Do,” a professor asks a student, “What do you enjoy reading?” Then, the professor continues, “Find the voices you love, spend time with them, and they can tell you a lot about what your own voice might become.” What kinds of activities do you enjoy? With what kind of “voice” do those activities speak to you these days? What have those things told you about yourself?
- In “What to Do with Too Much to Do,” the narrator suggests, “Taking time with what we love can tell us a lot about what our lives might yet become.” Where did your mind go when you read that passage? Is there an area of discernment in your life right now that could benefit from spending a little extra time with something that’s not currently getting a lot of your time?
- In “Handling the Holes Created by Loss,” the narrator says, “Repairs feel like a form of care for the things that go with me through my days.” Did this send your mind to any items that you’ve repaired and kept for sentimental value?
- In “Handling the Holes Created by Loss,” the narrator speaks of having holes inside of her created by her losses. Did that resonate with you? If so, how? If not, what other ways would you describe what your losses have felt like?
- In “Handling the Holes Created by Loss,” the narrator speaks of a time during her grief when she realized she’d be smiling or laughing in the middle of crying. Have you ever had that experience? When you’ve been grieving, what experiences or memories have brought you smiles or laughter in addition to your tears?
- The narrator begins “Beneath the Loss” by asking, “Does the vividness of memory ever surprise you?” How did you respond to that question at first. By the end of the essay, had your response to that question changed?
- “Beneath the Loss” explores the narrator’s experience of walking through an empty building during the pandemic lock-down time. What memories do you have of empty buildings or empty spaces during the pandemic? What feelings did you experience in those situations?
- In “Beneath the Loss” the narrator says that she thought at first that memory helped her “look away from a difficult present.” She continues, “While that’s true, I’ve also started to notice memories doing so much more than that.” What do you think she means by that statement? What are the narrator’s memories doing in the rest of the essay? Do your own memories act in similar ways?
- “On the Changing of Seasons” begins with the narrator speaking of how her days had changed during the pandemic and noting aspects of change that she’d enjoyed. How did your days change during the pandemic? Were there any aspects that you enjoyed?
- The narrator of “On the Changing of Seasons” says that “rituals can remind us of bigger pictures” and reflects, “that bike ride ritual began my days by reminding me of life beyond my email inbox.” Do you have any rituals that remind you of a bigger picture? If not, what difference do your rituals make in your days?
- The narrator of “On the Changing of Seasons” says that her morning bike rides kept her “out among people, engaged by what [she] could still do and discover, experiencing newness as something beautiful rather than frightening.” Are there situations in your life where you’re able to experience newness as beautiful rather than frightening? If so, how do you think those situations are different than the situations where you experience newness as frightening?
- In “On the Changing of Seasons,” the narrator says that “remembering doesn’t only focus us on the past. Remembering what seemed good and right can also help us focus on what may yet become good and right in new seasons ahead. It helps me, at least, to remember what I’m watching for.” What memories have helped you remember what you’re watching for? The narrator lists some things she’s watching for. What’s on your list of things you’re watching for these days?
- In “Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time,” the narrator finds herself focusing on bread and muses that she “sometimes focus[es] on bits and pieces when the bigger picture feels too big to handle in any given moment.” Have you ever found this to be the case with yourself? What “bits and pieces” has your mind tended to focus on when the bigger picture feels overwhelming?
- In “Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time,” the narrator reflects on her sense of loss and says, “I’m not keeping up with the rush to return to normalcy. What does a person do with her deep sense of not-rightness that remains? How do we carry all the absence, all the awareness of people and things missing from our days, other than to carry it around like holes inside of us?” Have you had a time when you felt like you weren’t able to return to a normalcy that others around you seemed to be returning to? Why do you think this was the case? And how would you answer the narrator’s questions?
- In “Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time,” the narrator listens to the “Call to Eucharistic Fast for the Neighbor” and reflects: “I’d forgotten how beautifully the sacred language in our traditions could help us articulate a ‘there’ that we haven’t reached yet.” What do you think she means by this? Have you encountered liturgies or other moments in worship services that spoke to you in a special way? Why do you think these moments spoke to you the way they did?
- In “Claiming a Fast in Pandemic Time,” the narrator asks a series of fasting-related questions: “What if we gave up our expectations that our lives return to ‘normal’? What if we fasted from assuming comfort would feel the way it used to feel?” Brainstorm ways that you might begin to answer these questions for yourself.
- In “What God Does with Dust,” the narrator reflects on her memories of Ash Wednesday. Do you have any memories of this occasion? Whether or not you do, what associations do you have with Ash Wednesday now?
- In “What God Does with Dust,” the narrator speaks of the pandemic showing her more of her own vulnerability than she was used to seeing. Do you resonate with that impression? If so, how did you experience the pandemic showing you your vulnerability? If no, what kinds of things have you begun seeing differently since the pandemic?
- In “What God Does with Dust,” the narrator claims that she’s “become alert to the world on a smaller scale.” Have you had any experiences that have attuned you more closely to a “smaller scale” of things? If so, what was that like?
- In “Anything but Gone,” the narrator thinks through holiday memories with her family of origin. What are some holiday decorations or traditions that have stayed with you the longest? Why do you think you’ve kept them? If you haven’t carried forward many holiday traditions from your childhood, why has that been the case?
- In “Anything but Gone,” the narrator says, “I finally knew what people meant when they said that grieving is harder at the holidays.” Have you had this experience yourself or seen a loved one experience this? In those situations, how have you or your loved one responded to the difficult of the holidays?
- In “Anything but Gone,” the narrator observes, “The people we love stay with us in so many ways, don’t they”? Have you ever found this to be true? If so, what situations have pointed you to their continued presence with you? If you’ve never found this to be true, then what have been some meaningful ways you’ve found to remember and think about loved ones whom you’ve lost?
Hope and Imagination
- Which of the “Hope and Imagination” essays spoke to you most? Why?
- In “Remembering Hope,” the narrator speaks of wandering by her back window and being “caught up short, surprised” by the gentle glow of her neighbor’s deck lights. She says, “They brought a smile to my face before I’d even realized it.” When was the last time something made you smile before you even realized you were doing it? What kinds of sights tend to have the power to make you smile?
- In “Remembering Hope,” the narrator reflects, “I become more and more aware of how times of needing comfort will come sometimes and linger. They may linger long past our tolerance for them.” When was the last time you had that experience? What helped you make it through that time?
- In “Remembering Hope,” the narrator speaks of how good memories point her “towards the future and towards hope.” Then, she asks, “What memories call out to you? What moments remind you of what’s possible?” Where did your mind go in response to those questions? Are there particular memories that you’ve been spending the most time with lately? If so, why do you think that is?
- In “Our Imperfect Saints,” the narrator reflects on her grandmother as one of the “saints” who went before her. Are there any people in your life whom you think of in this way? Why do you think of them in this way?
- In “Our Imperfect Saints,” the narrator says, “Many people and many families say nothing when a family member is suffering from mental illness.” To what extent has this been your experience, as well? Why do you think this is the case? Do you think this kind of silence has changed very much in recent years? Why or why not?
- In “Our Imperfect Saints,” the narrator speaks of us making “our way within God’s still-unfolding redemption, a way shown by the love of Christ and inspired by those who have persevered that their lives might point to that love.” Can you think of people whose lives have pointed to that love for you? In what ways did their lives point to God’s love? In what ways could you imagine your own life pointing to that love?
- In “Our Imperfect Saints,” the narrator says, “I’ve sometimes experienced a legacy like mental illness as a burden.” However, in trying to think of that legacy as something other than a burden, she asks, “What if a difficult legacy came to us more as an ingredient of our days, as an element in our work to embody God’s love and healing?” Are there any difficult legacies that you have inherited from your family or within your community? If so, what would it mean for you to experience that difficult legacy as something other than a burden? How might that legacy become “an element in [your] work to embody God’s love and healing”?
- In “On What We Choose to Keep,” the narrator begins with the statement, “Entering a new year, like moving to a new home, often inspires me to evaluate what does and does not go with me.” Do you resonate with that statement? Are there other occasions when you’ve found yourself evaluating what you keep and what you let go of?
- In “On What We Choose to Keep,” the narrator says, “We human beings are quite capable of paying loving attention to people we once considered strangers.” She adds, “I do relish things that remind me of that.” What situations in your life have given you a chance to experience giving or receiving that kind of attention? What things have you kept over the years that have reminded you of those situations?
- In “On What We Choose to Keep,” the narrator concludes with the questions, “What have you held onto over the years? Has anything surprised you?” How did you answer those questions when you first read them? Have you come up with any additional answers as you’ve thought more about it? Why do you think you’ve kept the things you’ve kept?
- In “To Practice Change,” the narrator speaks of having a complicated relationship with change. Would you say a similar thing about yourself? Why or why not?
- In “To Practice Change,” the narrator speaks of how life transitions can go deep and feel overwhelming, leaving a person needing heal. She asks, “Have you ever been there?” How did you respond to that question? If you have an experience of your own in mind, how did you handle the overwhelm? Did you make yourself any promises (e.g., not to box up your life again for a long while) during that time?
- In “To Practice Change,” the narrator references Ignatius of Loyola’s idea that some spirits fill the soul “with peace and quiet,” while others bring turmoil. Could you resonate with that idea? Have you experienced different ideas, situations, or possibilities bringing those different kinds of sensations? If so, when was the last time you experienced one of those situations?
- “To Practice Change” ends with the questions, “What about you? How do you practice change?” How did you respond to those questions? Other than the narrator’s examples of walking and cycling and your own initial response, how many other activities can you think of that have helped you practice change?
- In “A Simple Word for a New Year,” the narrator asks readers to consider taking a word as their companion in the year ahead. Have you ever chosen a word to live with for a while? If so, what was it like? If not, what do you think about the idea? Either way, what words came to your mind as possibilities for you right now?
 Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2000) 116.