WaterBrook Press Reader’s Guide
for All Together in One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick
“One of the incidents that made a profound impression upon the minds of all was the meeting with eleven wagons returning, and not a man left in the entire train. All the men had died and had been buried on the way, and the women and children were returning to their homes alone from a point well up on the Plate, below Fort Laramie. The difficulties of the return trip were multiplied on account of the throng moving westward. How those women succeeded in their attempt, or what became of them, we never knew.”–Ezra Meeker recalling an incident on his first journey west on the Oregon Trail in 1852
As with many of us, Mazy Bacon thought she yearned for the things that gave her nurture: her home and garden, her dog, the love and comfort of her husband, the visits of her mother. She did not like surprises or change and told her husband so. She liked a predictable life and thought that she controlled it. “Things’re not always what they seem,” her husband said one evening in early 1850 and thus began this young woman’s journey to the wilderness places of her life – the wilderness of landscape, relationship and the yearnings of her soul.
ALL TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE is a novel, set in 1852, about eleven wagons of women seeking the nurture of home and facing change. But more it is a story of the wilderness places of our lives today and the discovery of what we’re given-if we will seek it-to see us through. Writer Terry Tempest Williams reminds us that “to step into wilderness is to court risk.” We are warned in life to be prepared before we step where few have gone before. But sometimes we are forced to enter the wilderness. Death, divorce, loneliness and betrayal announce the wilderness of relationship. A move, an illness or an accident can separate us from familiar landscapes, friends and even ourselves, piercing us in places we fight so hard to stay away from. The wilderness of spirit can challenge, too, revealing both fears and fragile places in our faith that trouble us and taking us deep into uncertainty.
But wrapped within the wilderness places, treasure sparkles-if we believe, persevere, and reach beyond, if we will trust the Psalmist’s words, “The Lord knows my lot. He makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places.” To find those pleasant places of our lives, no matter where we are, we’re asked to stretch, to risk and trust and to admit that we have entered wilderness, that life as we once knew it and believed that we controlled, has ended. With that admission, we can court commitment not just risk, and with faith and friends, move forward toward abundance we otherwise would never known was there.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. When life presented Mazy with the unexpected sale of their home and the arrival of her mother and her own injury, what strategies did Mazy use to keep from changing? Did any work for her? Why not? What choices did she have she didn’t take? Would her life have been better if she had chosen one of those?
2. Sister Esther noted that we always have control over our attitude. Do you agree? Do we control anything else in our lives?
3. When you enter a wilderness area-in the landscape, relationships or of the spirit, do you have a favorite strategy you keep repeating even though it doesn’t get you what you want? What might it take for you to try new ways to deal with disappointment, frustration, loneliness, guilt and fear?
4. What is “community” in your life? Is it different from “family”? What does it take to form kinship in this age of frequent and distant moves, of technology, and many fractured lives?
5. What made it possible for Tipton to “move on?” What barriers does Suzanne face in finding her pleasant places? Is it realistic that merely reaching out to another person in their wilderness place could bring them to the pleasant places of their lives? How common is it for us to want to go back to the way it was, to “go back home?”
6. What boundaries or barriers keep us from moving forward in the wilderness places of our own lives?
7. When the Israelites gathered at the Jordan, prepared to finally-after forty years-cross into the promised land, why did Moses make them go over the stories of where they’d come from, what had happened to them, and of what God had done for them? Did these women find ways to be healed from the stories of their lives?
8. What kinds of emotions were the people of ALL TOGETHER grieving? Can you identify the challenges of the spirit that grief sometimes brings into our lives? Who brought hope to help each woman through it-or did they allow grief to change them?
9. For the women of ALL TOGETHER, what role did the “necessary circles” play in their journey?
10. Have you ever changed the boundaries of a pleasant place as Ruth did by doing something that took you back instead, deprived you of staying in or moving to a “better place”? What is it about a familiar place that makes us want to return or stay there, even when it provides us pain, even when it wasn’t all we told ourselves it was?
11. What allows us to wander in the wilderness even when surrounded by abundance?
12. It’s been said that in a time of crisis, people seek three things: sound information, a sense of connection with others, and spiritual support. Pick a character and talk about how these three needs materialized in the life of that woman or what got in the way.
How have those yearnings been met in your own life?
13. In the 1800s, Samuel Johnson wrote, “To be happy at home is the result of all ambition.” Do you agree? What is home? What was Mazy’s true home and how did it change when she moved to a different place?
14. Talk about the phrase from poet Rainier Rilke’s poem, that “God is the great homesickness we can never shake off”? How does that apply to ALL TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE? Does it apply to your own life journey as well?