Over the past several months I have started meeting with a spiritual director. This is a result of reading the Church of England series and several books on spiritual direction. Since I clearly process through reading and writing about what I read, my spiritual director suggested I read something by Parker Palmer in part because I have such problem integrating the formalized Benedictine spirituality that I keep trying to move toward. (If you can’t do it, try the opposite Quaker spiritual thought.)
So I started by listening to the audiobook of Palmer’s classic Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
Palmer’s idea that we do not always consciously know what we unconsciously speak of or our body unconsciously does follows the findings of behavior economics quite well.
So early in the book Palmer says, “We have a strange conceit in our culture, that simply because we have said something we understand what it means, but often we do not.”
That is certainly something I understand stand and one of the reasons I like blogging through books. The practice forces me to put into words what is I do not always have consciously in my thoughts.
The book as a whole is primarily about being who God created us to be, and not what others (or even ourselves) think we should be. And that is clearly a theme of my spiritual direction conversations. I have an idea of what I think my spiritual life should be. And in many ways I get more frustrated the more I strive after what I hold as ideals.
One of the images I understand was Palmer’s observing in his newborn granddaughter something he had missed when observing his own children. Children come to earth as a particular person, not as raw material to be shaped. Later he compares creating our own vocation and life to an engineer or builder. If you do not pay attention to the quality and ability of the steel and other materials that are in your bridge then you are putting lives at risk. Similarly, if you do not pay attention to your own make up as you create your life and vocation you can quite literally put other people’s lives at risk by trying to make yourself into something that you were not designed by God to be.
So Palmer is suggesting that it is part of our responsibility (especially those of us that are older) to share the difficult as well as the good. When he was in his 20s “I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure, and not realized that I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.”
Another idea that struck me is how Palmer talks about the ability to do the wrong things for the right reason. And that sometimes that is a gift. In his case he was talking about leaving the academy. At the time he told himself it was because the academy was corrupt and biased. But later he came to understand that he was ill suited to the life of a scholar and it was good that he left the academy even if he was not able to be honest with himself about the real reasons at the time.
All of this reminds me of Richard Rohr’s take on the Catholic Church, that your strength is your weakness and your weakness is your strength. It is not that we don’t have strengths and weaknesses, but that our strengths taken too far become weaknesses and our weaknesses leads us to relying on our strengths.
This is a brief book and one that should have a second reading. But as much as I keep writing down quotes and enjoyed the book, there is a part of me that feels like it is too easy. Like Parker is suggesting that we do want comes easy and not strive and push (which is what I would like.) So I will need to read and process more.