Two of them.
The more recently inaugurated is virtual. We meet on google hangout, a group of women whose expressions of faith vary but whose commitments are solid. We pray together and we talk for an hour, intently and with few detours, about different topics each month. We don't have to concern ourselves with food or clean houses, and we all love what we are reading. It's not a conflicted experience for me.
The other was initiated by a few of my close friends in the months after the deaths of Musical Friend's husband and of my son. Neither she nor I went for a long time, not until after we were told that the book club had been started "for us." We were both baffled; she doesn't read for pleasure, and I was finding group activity of any kind to be painfully bewildering. We weren't, either one of us, exactly book club material.
Actually, the part about not going is not entirely true. I did go to the latter book club a few months after Josh died. The book under discussion was a local author's story of her home's renovation, a subject dear to the hearts of those of us who live in big old homes built more than ninety years ago. I mentioned that I wanted to burn my home to the ground; it was so filled with memories of our children that I could hardly stand to be there. Now THAT statement brought discussion to a halt. Oh, I thought to myself. They thought we were talking about new kitchens and I thought we were talking about dead children. I realized that I had no business going out in public.
Well, that evening took place three and one-half years ago, and this week I am finally hosting the book club for the first time. It's not so much a book club as a social occasion; it seems to me that there's a lot of competition for the best spread of food and wine. My friends are excellent cooks and bakers. I am neither, so Thursday will be an expensive day for me, as I seek to purchase what other women know how to prepare.
The irony is that we're reading (my choice this month) Sara Miles's Take This Bread. Although I don't cook anything much beyond grilled cheese, her subject ~ the transformation wrought in individuals and communities nourished by the Eucharist ~ is dear to my heart.
The last time in my memory that we had a genuine book discussion was some considerable time ago, when Musical Friend was the hostess and the book was Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, about the first year of her life after the death of her husband. Musical Friend wanted desperately to share her experience of having been catapulted into sudden widowhood at a young age with her friends. Some of the women were unhappy with her choice and its failure to provide an upbeat ending, but we engaged in a probing discussion for two hours.
I wonder whether I dare aim for the the same thing when the topic addresses the brokenness and possibilities for openness of the church?