Synopses & Reviews
Young Emma Wagner chafes at the constraints of Bethel colony, an 1850s religious community in Missouri that is determined to remain untainted by the concerns of the world. A passionate and independent thinker, she resents the limitations placed on women, who are expected to serve in quiet submission. In a community where dissent of any form is discouraged, Emma finds it difficult to rein in her tongue-and often doesnt even try to do so, fueling the animosity between her and the colonys charismatic and increasingly autocratic leader, Wilhelm Keil.
Eventually Emma and her husband, Christian, are sent along with eight other men to scout out a new location in the northwest where the Bethelites can prepare to await “the last days.” Christian believes theyve found the ideal situation in Washington territory, but when Keil arrives with the rest of the community, he rejects Christians choice in favor of moving to Oregon.
Emma pushes her husband to take this opportunity to break away from the group, but her longed-for influence brings unexpected consequences. As she seeks a refuge for her wounded faith, she learns that her passionate nature can be her greatest strength-if she can harness it effectively.
A Community Searching for Refuge,
A Woman Finding Her Voice
The people of Bethel, Missouri, seek to live with simplicity and generosity, existing in the world of the 1850s but remaining set apart from its distractions and vanities. Rather than finding peace in this would-be utopia, spirited young Emma Wagner chafes at the constraints of a culture that values conformity over independent thought, especially in women.
"A Clearing in the Wild" is a lyrical novel that follows the spiritual journey of young Emma Wagner as she chafes at the constraints of her isolated 1850s religious community.
About the Author
Jane Kirkpatrick is the award-winning, best-selling author of two nonfiction books and eleven novels, including A Name of Her Own and the acclaimed Kinship and Courage series. Jane is a winner of the coveted Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center and National Cowboy Hall of Fame. A licensed clinical social worker as well as an inspirational retreat leader and speaker, she lives with her husband on 160 acres in eastern Oregon. Visit Jane's website at www.jkbooks.com!
Reading Group Guide
1. How would you characterize the role of women within the Bethel colony? What changes occurred in the Willapa Valley that redefined the role of the women? Who or what brought about those changes?
2. It's said that feeling unique and being acknowledged for that uniqueness is a prerequisite for a healthy sense of self. Do you agree or disagree? Can you identify something that is unique about you? Has that gift/talent/behavior/ ever been noticed by others? Is receiving appreciation for that recognition an act of vanity? What was unique about Emma?
3. After their marriage, why didnt Emma attempt to go with her husband on his recruiting into Kentucky or other places in the Southwest? If she had, would that have changed her desire to go west with the scouts?
4. Was Emmas decision to travel to the west with the scouts an act of love for her husband or her own wish to be independent of the colony? Was she a scout?
5. What were some of Wilhelm Keils strengths as a leader? How did he hold so large a colony together for such a long time? What were his faults as a leader?
6. What did Wilhelm and Emma have in common? Did those qualities tend to help them or get in their way of what they said they wanted for themselves and their families?
7. What were some of Emmas growing pains? Was leaving her husband while they were building that first winter her only choice? How might she have accomplished the same result with different actions?
8. What do you think the German proverb “Begin to weave / God provides the thread” means?
9. What tied the Bethel colony together? What held the Willapa scouts together? What threats worked against the success of the Willapa colony? Are there similar threats to communities of faith today? What helps them continue on?
10. Are there any parallels in our contemporary time to what Emma refers to when she says, “It was an intricate task blending isolation with protection; melding worldliness with spiritual calm”?
11. What was the Diamond Rule practiced by the Bethel colony? Is such a rule substantiated scripturally for Christians? Other world faiths? Did Wilhelm Keil demonstrate the Diamond Rule in his reaction to the scouts at Willapa?
12. Did Emma manipulate Christian to remain in Willapa? Was her interest in staying on after their harsh winter an act of love for her husband, a desire to be free of the colony, or from a new belief that she followed Gods direction for her life? Do you think Emma would have remained in Willapa without Christian if he hadnt agreed with the possibilities of her plan?
13. Why did Christian concur with Wilhelm about the need to leave the valley? What made Christian change his mind? Are there likely to be conflicts between Emma and Christian in the years ahead, and if so, what do you think will enable them to accommodate each other in helpful ways?
14. Though we see the other women in this story through the eyes of Emma, what are Marys strengths? Sarahs? Louisas? Emmas mothers? her sister Catherines? Do these women change throughout the story, or are they static characters acting as backdrops for Emmas choice and change?
15. Toward the end, the author has Emma identify four spiritual pains* that she sees plaguing her husband, keeping him from seeking healing solace and from making the choice that Emma hopes he will: hopelessness, unforgiveness, separation from those who love him, and lack of meaning. What examples of Christians behavior does the reader have that help define these four areas of Christians struggle? How does Emma attempt to help him throughout their marriage?
*These four spiritual pains are described in greater detail in The American Way of Dying, Lessons in Healing Spiritual Pain by Richard Groves and Henriette Anne Klauser, published by Celestial Arts, Berkely, CA 2005.