Discussion questions for God and Other Men
- Smith’s quest for meaning starts as an inner void created in part by incidents that felt to her like abandonments. She and her parents didn’t understand each other. When she was a girl, her closest childhood bond was broken when her grandmother moved to the other side of Oregon. Later in life, her husband left. Do all spiritual journeys start with an element of loneliness, a yearning to feel connected?
- Smith had been teaching Anne Sexton’s poem “Live” to a college English class days before the poet killed herself. Smith writes, “Had I, like her, felt that a husband, children, success, and friends were not enough? Did we both have a void in us that the world could not fill?” Do you look to the works of other writers for mirrors and guideposts in your life journey? Elaborate.
- Enlightenment can come slowly, insight by insight, as we let go our grip on deeply held beliefs. When Smith saw the Indian saint Satya Sai Baba produce ash out of thin air, she realized the physical world did not have to follow the rules of science. That shift opened her mind in a new way. What experience prompted you to feel a shift in your perceptions of yourself and the world?
- Disappointment is a part of all life paths. Smith experiences just that when she spends time with one Indian guru and sees that, rather than living a life of renunciation, he actually has great wealth. She can’t reconcile the contradiction. Can you recall a disappointment on your spiritual path? Was it as important a part of your growth as when you encountered goodness, joy, or wisdom?
- Growing up among adults with affinities for different religious and spiritual traditions—from evangelical conversions to Edgar Cayce’s psychic healings—left Smith with so wide a berth of options that she felt almost homeless in a spiritual sense. What role did your upbringing play in your spiritual development?
- Smith’s journey toward wholeness includes wanting a relationship with a man, which she eventually finds in Charlie. To what extent do your spiritual proclivities impact your choice of love partner? Is it possible for two people with greatly different views of the divine and the cosmos to endure as lovers?
- Some spiritual communities require their members to conform. Smith encountered this in Christian Science, which would not allow her to swim laps or seek medical aid to help her ailing back. To what extent should a spiritual community allow its members to make their own decisions without interference?
- During her time with A Course in Miracles, Smith learns that so-called “special relationships” with people, food, alcohol, work, shopping, or some other obsession are a substitute for a real relationship with God. They are a way of keeping the ego satisfied while the spirit continues to languish. Have you experienced this phenomenon in your life?
- Smith entered the worlds of many different spiritual thought and belief systems in her life. Do they all really lead to the same place? Or does the particular road a person takes matter a lot?
- One day, while staying at Yoga Niketan in India and quietly reading a book about the South Indian saint Ramana Maharshi, Smith feels a moment of complete bliss that spreads from her heart through her whole body. And it holds for a long time. Are there times when enlightenment seeks us instead of us seeking it? If so, does it come only to those who have devoted time and energy in its pursuit?
- When will you know you have achieved spiritual success in your own life? When the urge to seek subsides and fades away? When you are happy?
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