Discussion Questions for The Cure for Sorrow by Jan Richardson - Kate Bowler

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Discussion Questions for The Cure for Sorrow by Jan Richardson

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1. “In the wake of Gary’s death, I needed, more than ever, to believe in what a blessing can do,” reflects author Jan Richardson in the introduction to The Cure for Sorrow, a book of blessings written after the unexpected loss of her husband. What do you believe a blessing can a do?

2. In the first blessing, Blessing for Getting the News, Richardson starts, “I don’t know how it will be for you.” When have you received news that pierced you with grief? What word or phrase in this blessing reflects how it was for you? What word or phrase would you add from your particular experience?

3. Throughout the book, Richardson emphasizes the necessity of questions. Even when we don’t know the answer. Even when we don’t want to ask the question. In Blessing the Questions, she advises, “Let them come: the questions that storm through the crack in the world.” What’s one question that currently needs blessing in your life?

4. Richardson also, however, acknowledges the solace that arrives when we’re given what we need without asking: “Shine your shoes. Fill your refrigerator. Water your plants. Make some soup. All the things you cannot think to do yourself when the world has come apart.” Who has given you this kind of solace? How did you leave the door of your heart open to receive them when they showed up?

5. In the Blessing You Should Not Tell Me, Richardson recounts all the blessings she does not want to hear. Instead, she wants the blessing of breathing with someone, sitting with someone, telling a story of her loved one to someone. What distinguishes a good blessing from a bad one? Why are good blessings— what Richardson calls “the blessing of your own heart opened and beating with mine”—so hard to come by?

6. Many of Richardson’s blessings mark ordinary milestones, “terrible and exquisite.” Blessing for My First Day as a Widow. Blessing for Dining Alone. Insomnia Blessing. What ordinary milestone in your life is desperate for a blessing? What title would you give your blessing? How would it start?

7. Richardson, also an ordained United Methodist minister, references Jewish and Christian scripture in some of her blessings. Which of these blessings gave you fresh perspective on an ancient story? Which of these blessings challenged you to see your story differently? How have blessings from your tradition—whether familial, cultural, or spiritual—illuminated your present?

8. The verb “humming” appears in both the first blessing of the book, and one of its last. In the first, Richardson hears a humming in her head when she’s given the news that her husband has died. In the latter, called What Fire Comes to Sing in You, the humming comes from “the joy that lives in such strange company with sorrow.” What is the significance of humming? Has humming ever played a part in your grief? What song, if any, did it sing in you?

9. “Now, beloved, we live in a country that has no name,” Richardson writes of life after loss. Do you know something about this country? How would you describe it to someone who has never been? What do you need to survive in this terrain? What do you carry with you in your knapsack? How does wholeness make a home in you here, even when you feel lost?

10. Is there a cure for sorrow? Jan Richardson says, “I do not know any cure for sorrow but to let ourselves sorrow.” What do you say?

Bonus: After reading The Cure for Sorrow, what part of the book resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?

Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.
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