From God's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace
Slow Book Group: Paula Gooder, Everyday God

Slow Book Group: Paula Gooder, Everyday God

Date: 16 June to 17 November 2022, 3rd Thursday of the month, 7.30-8.30pm
Location: Online via Zoom

The book

Dr Paula Gooder is a theologian and Anglican lay reader, a writer and lecturer in Biblical Studies specialising in the New Testament, and Canon Chancellor at St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

She has written a series of books exploring the seasons of the Christian year, including Advent, Lent, Easter. In Everyday God she explores the longest period of the liturgical year, Ordinary Time.

We live in a culture that revels in the special, the extraordinary, the new, the unusual. Yet, ’the ordinary’ is the very essence of life. Gooder provides reflections on 33 biblical texts reflecting on how God breaks into everyday life, and the hidden depths of richness and potential of ordinary times.

Given the subject matter of the book, it seemed appropriate to read it during the stretch of Ordinary Time between Easter and Advent. The reflections are conveniently divided into six parts, so we read one part each month.


For those who had not joined a Slow Book Group before, I put together a pdf of some thoughts and suggestions for slow reading, explaining that the Group’s purpose is not about getting through as many books as possible, but to gain from them a deeper understanding of our walk with God and through that to deepen our own prayer lives and relationships with God.

As usual, we notified the preceding group of the next book group a little in advance, and then publicised it to the wider Cathedral community via the monthly news and weekly sheet.

Phil and I met briefly in advance of each session to go over the readings and plan the session content. Then I emailed the group members a week ahead with a reminder of the text, some questions to consider while reading, and the Zoom details.

The sessions lasted about an hour. They varied in structure, with discussion in the whole group and break-out groups of 3/4, followed by a guided meditation of about 15 minutes. We started each session with a poem or short prayer, and closed with any notices, another poem or prayer and the grace. On occasion we started with the meditation, in which case we shared 3 minutes of silence before closing.

I encouraged participants to continue to sit with the text for a few more days, allowing what had been shared in the group to sink in, before turning to the next month’s text. Then after one week, I followed up each session with an email reminder of some of what we shared and/or my further thoughts, and information about the next month.

June 2022

Read: “How to read this book” and Section 1 “On Turning Aside”

Suggestions to mull over while reading:

  • What is your understanding of ‘ordinary’?
  • Become aware of how you practise the ordinary and turning aside during your daily life.


After a short introduction, we had a general go-round, asking each participant to share on:

  • What are your hopes for the book group?
  • What do you think you may need to lay aside to help you in the coming months? ie turn aside from, in order to be able to turn aside to

We then split into small groups for general discussion about how the reading struck each one of us. We provided some optional questions to consider, to get the conversation going if necessary.

Back together, I led a guided meditation through the story of the burning bush, Exodus 3.1-6, in the style of Ignatian meditation as presented by Anthony de Mello in “Sadhana; Christian Exercises in Eastern Form”.


Opening prayer, verses 2 and 1 from “The Elixir” by George Herbert:

“Two Giant Fat People” by Hafiz

Closing prayer from the Cathedral’s Rule of Life, slightly adapted:

God of life,
present uniquely to each of us in each ordinary moment of our day,
in each person we meet,
in each task we undertake,
in each path we walk,
receive our commitment to journey with you and with your people,
and strengthen us in our inner beings to be faithful to your call;
through Jesus, our companion and guide.


Read: Section 2 “Unsung Heroes”, and the Introduction

Suggestions to mull over while reading:

  • Who do you know who is an unsung hero?
  • What does or would it mean to you to be an unsung hero yourself?


We started with smaller break-out groups to focus in on the text…

  • How did the idea of unsung heroes land with you?
  • Which of the stories could you relate to most/least easily and why?
  • Which stories were familiar/unfamiliar? Which others might you have chosen?
  • Do you agree with Paula’s interpretation of the stories?

…then back together again pulled back the lens for a discussion of the questions sent in advance, and also asking

  • What impact has this chapter had on your walk with God? How might this affect your practice?

In the third part of the session, I led a short guided meditation on John 6.5-11, based on the structure of Lectio Divina.


The opening and closing prayers were from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She became popular after her death through her spiritual autobiography, “The Story of a Soul”, but in community had lived a hidden life and wanted to be unknown.

O Jesus, I know well that You do not look so much at the greatness of my actions, as to the love with which I do them. It is true I am not always faithful, but I shall not lose courage. I desire to make use of every opportunity to please You.
Through your grace, Amen.

O my God! I ask You, for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to
fulfil perfectly Your Holy Will, to accept for love of You the joys and sorrows of this
passing life, so that we may one day be united together in Heaven for all Eternity. Amen.

Perhaps, given that forms of assistance and leadership are included in the list of God’s appointments in 1 Corinthians 12.27-31, but not then in the set of questions, they are what Paul means by the ‘greater gifts’?


Read: Section 3 “An Everyday God”

Suggestions to mull over while reading:

  • Where do you find God? That is… how, when and where does God appear to you?
  • Where, if anywhere, have you tried to lock God?


After a short preliminary discussion on ‘the story so far’, as in July we started with small groups to focus on the text…

  • Did any of the passages and reflections particularly strike you? Did you read any of the extended passages and have any further reflections?
  • What did you think of Gooder’s choice of passages? Which of her interpretations did you agree with most/least and why?

…then came back together again for a discussion of the wider context, covering the questions shared in advance and:

  • What are the ‘ordinary’ signs of God that you have noticed in the last few weeks after reading?
  • What impact has this chapter had on your walk with God, and how might it affect your practice?

We closed with a guided meditation in a style based on the ‘Fantasy’ meditations in Anthony de Mello’s “Sadhana”. I used the passages in the chapter on p71 on God as weaver and potter as a starting point.


Phil’s opening prayer…

Spirit of God,
Lord and Giver of Life,
moving between us and around,
like wind or water or fire;
breathe into us your freshness that we may awake;
cleanse our vision that we may see more clearly;
kindle our senses that we may feel more sharply
soften our hearts that we may know thee more dearly;
and give us the courage to live
as you would have us live,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

John V. Taylor (adapted)

…and closing prayer

Lord Jesus, help us to put aside all the cares which separate us from you. Calm our minds and fill us with knowledge that you are present with us always. Enrich our lives that we may grow in fellowship with one another as members of your family.

The Mother’s Union Prayer Book (adapted)

Some references sparked by the break-out group I joined:


Read: Section 4 “An Ordinary Kingdom”

Suggestions to mull over as you are reading:

  • What is your understanding when you pray “your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven”
  • What signs do you see, and what parables would you tell?


The Queen had died the previous week, so we started with an opportunity to share any related thoughts or feelings.

Then we moved into small break-out groups to discuss the advance questions, followed by a general conversation in the larger group about responses to the chapter and elements that might have spoken, been enjoyable, or difficult, challenging or unsettling.

I tried something different as a guided meditation (though am not sure it worked): changing the prepositions and tenses in the short parable of the treasure hidden in a field.


Phil’s opening prayer…

O Holy Spirit,
Giver of light and life,
impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,
and prayers better than our own prayers,
and powers beyond own powers,
that we may spend and be spent
in the ways of love and goodness,
after the perfect image
of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Eric Milner-White and GW Briggs

…and my closing prayer:

O God, Treasure of Treasures, you reveal glimmers of yourself and your kingdom in surprising places at unexpected times. We do not always find it easy to recognise them, and sometimes there is so much that we want to cling onto that we find it hard to let go. So be with us, in our joys and in our sorrows, as we choose the greater treasure; and help us to remember this time and place whenever the glimmers become faint.

One final thought on the events of the last two weeks. Much has been made of the promise the then Princess Elizabeth made on her 21st birthday – to be devoted to service. Much less has been made of her call to her listeners to join her in it:

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.

A speech by the Queen on her 21st Birthday, 1947

And the text of Archbishop Justin’s sermon at her State Funeral


Read: Section 5 “The Call to Extraordinariness”

Suggestions to mull over as you are reading:

  • What people have you seen or do you see around you that exemplify Paula’s ideas of ordinary-extraordinary?
  • How have you been called to be, and have been, ordinary-extraordinary yourself?


We started in break-out groups by discussing Paula’s exploration of markers of how we live out our Christian calling, asking: Which of these, or which other markers, have spoken to you as you discern your own calling?

Back together again in the large group, a number felt the need to further discuss the marker of forgiveness, so we changed our plans.

We were intending to dig deeper into this knotty sentence, asking the three questions, but suggested instead that the participants might like to do this individually after the session:

We should strive to carry the things that we think make others weak so deep within us that they become a part of us and change the way we view the world.

  1. How have I or how am I experiencing this?
  2. If I were to say it, how would I say this?
  3. What is this asking of me?

The closing guided meditation was an imaginative exploration of the story of the paralysed man brought to Jesus by his four friends.


The psalm excerpts I used to open and close the session were both from the NRSV:

I was reminded during our discussion of the rabbinic principle of Qal wahomer, which means in Hebrew “light to heavy”. It is the argument that Jesus often uses: if something holds in a lesser case (eg dubious ruler or unjust judge), how much more will it apply in a greater case (God). And I also happened upon this longer article on forgiveness in Matthew: in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew’s parallel story of the paralysed man, how many times we must forgive, and the Lord’s Supper.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver Colorado, and author. Here is her short message likening forgiveness to the wielding of bolt-cutters.

I can’t remember how Thomas Merton’s writing about the true and false selves came up. But anyway, here are some excerpts from New Seeds of Contemplation. The upshot is that the call to deny ourselves is not to deny our whole self and entire existence, but to deny our false self in order that our true self in the image of God may emerge.

And finally, this secular example of the ordinary-extraordinary spoke to me: “Children are our role models. Their curiosity, creativity and imagination inspire everything we do.”


Read: Section 6 “Glimpsing Glory”

We suggest mulling over a couple of Paula’s questions on p124 while reading the rest of the chapter:

  • What is it that transforms us in the very midst of our ordinary living into people able to live out God’s extraordinary calling?
  • How do we know when we have had a glimpse of glory?


After a short period in the large group, sharing any particular insights from the section, we went into break-out groups to discuss the two questions above.

We then came back together to look back and look forwards, first sharing any significant passages, thoughts, or resonances from the whole book over the past six months, and then thinking about what next for the group.

I then led a guided meditation in the style of Lectio Divina on Exodus 34.29-35, the shining face of Moses.

We concluded this instance of the slow book group with a go round, inviting each participant to share a word, phrase, metaphor or image as a final gift to the group.


Some ideas for books and some excerpts, for any who would like to continue reflecting on the ‘ordinary’.

  • Br Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God
  • Kathleen Norris, Quotidian Mysteries
  • Fr George Guiver, Everyday God
  • from Joan Puls OSF, Seek Treasures in Small Fields: “We have the potential for rebirth and transformation, as long as we remain vulnerable to new experiences, to all that we have not yet learned. As long as we can see the extraordinary shining through the ordinary, and are capable of awe and delight and raw emotion. As long as the faithful pursuit of a mystery is more important than certitude and approval.”
  • from Marcel Driot, Fathers of the Desert: “A hermit had persevered for thirty years. One day he said to himself, ‘I have now spent so many years here and I have had no vision and performed no miracle as did the Fathers who were monks before me.’ And he was tempted to go back into the world. Then he was told, ‘what miracle do you want to perform that would be more extraordinary than the patience and courage God has given you and which allowed you to persevere for so long?’ “

One of the members shared this piece by David Adams, which resonated with her on the morning following our meeting: “Perhaps you are overcome by the greatness of the world; you may prefer to take a single piece of God’s creation and discover that it is full of the mysteries of his power and wisdom. There is no place or thing that is not in his presence. As some delight in silver and gold, we delight in the glory of God.”

And finally, the prayers Phil used were

Enter my heart, O Holy Spirit,
come in blessed mercy and set me free.
Throw open, O Lord, the locked doors of my mind;
cleanse the chambers of my thought for thy dwelling:
light there the fires of thine own holy brightness in new understandings of truth
O Holy Spirit, very God, whose presence is liberty,
grant me the perfect freedom
to be thy servant
today, tomorrow, evermore

Eric Milner-White

O God, the God of all goodness and of all grace,
who art worthy of a greater love
than we can either give or understand:
Fill our hearts, we beseech thee
that nothing may seem too hard for us to do or to suffer
in obedience to thy will;
and grant that thus loving thee,
we may become daily more like unto thee,
and finally obtain the crown of life
which though hast promised to those that love thee;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott


The Contemplative (or Slow) Book Group at Exeter Cathedral was started by Bishop Martin Shaw during the first Coronavirus lockdown. After the first book, I took it on with the help of Phil Wales, the permanent Deacon at the Cathedral. We have kept going, with an evolving membership, reflecting on books broadly on the theme of prayer and the spiritual journey. It’s important to say that leading the group isn’t a question of being an expert and providing teaching. Rather Phil and I hold a space for others to reflect and share.