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Traveling with the Turtle

Traveling with the Turtle: A Small Group Process in Women’s Spirituality and Peacemaking
By Cindy Preston-Pile and Irene Woodward
Oakland, CA: Pace e Bene Nonviolence Press, 2006
283 pages
Reviewed by Catherine Grytting, EdD

As I reviewed Traveling with Turtle I was inspired to write this story as an overview: There once was a small turtle whose way of moving influenced her view of the world. In the ocean, where she swam swiftly, she saw glistening water, vast algae colonies, and creatures who respected each other. On land, where she plodded clumsily, she noticed littered shorelines, barren sand dunes and predators who attacked her people. Everyday she glided through the water but struggled when crossing the sand. Until one day a seagull invited her onto his back for a fly. From the air, turtle surveyed the craggy mountains, verdant grasslands and countless animals. Suddenly she realized they mirrored the jagged reefs, abundant kelp beds and varied creatures of the sea. Her insight transformed her way of being in both worlds. Ever since that day, turtle understood that the world beneath the sky and the world beneath the sea are the same.

Just as turtle needed the elevated perspective of seagull to bridge the gulf between water and land, we need the deeper wisdom of the Divine to heal the split between patriarchal structures and feminine perspectives so that our world may be made whole. With turtle as guide, authors Cindy Preston-Pile and Irene Woodward outline a sacred journey for small groups that find the Spirit by searching the lives of each member. Their book, Traveling with the Turtle, is a manual that leads participants through thirteen sessions that explore women’s spirituality and peacemaking. Spiritual directors could use it as a tool for group spiritual direction.

The guidebook emerges from a program on the power of nonviolence for personal and social change. After facilitating workshops for several years, the authors documented the process. Written for women dedicated to nonviolence, the content focuses on images of the Divine, power, creativity, community, and social action, all viewed through the lens of peacemaking. The structure of each session consists of an opening ritual, reflections, the heart of the session, a closing ritual and applications between meetings that include readings, a life practice, and journal topics.

The book is methodical, easy to follow and provides “Facilitation Guidelines.” The authors recognize the dangers of codifying a dynamic process, and they advise facilitators to adjust the program to meet the unique needs of their group. Even so, spiritual directors delve so deeply that they may feel frustrated trying to complete the many facets in the suggested time of two hours per session.

Traveling with the Turtle uses material from more than fifty sources, many by well known authors such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Joyce Rupp, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Joan Chittister, and Sue Monk Kidd. When participants traverse minefields such as anger and violence, Preston-Pile and Woodward list resources for individuals who may need additional support and they remind their readers to take care of themselves. Like seagull, the authors carry group members to a vantage point that expands consciousness and generates another circle of women transforming our world. 

Catherine Grytting, EdD, offers spiritual direction, and lives in Seattle, Washington, USA. Additionally she provides instruction and treatment in energy healing. She connects with the Divine through writing, painting and playing music.

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