From his description of his sabbatical at Pendle Hill, a Quaker community–

But when I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite their good intentions, left me more discouraged. “Have faith,” they said, “and way will open.”

After a few months of deepening frustration, I took my troubles to an older Quaker woman well known for her thoughtfulness and candor. ‘Ruth,’ I said,  ‘people keep telling me that ‘way will open.’  Well, I sit in the silence, I pray, I listen for my calling, but way is not happening….’

Ruth’s reply was a model of Quaker plain-speaking. ‘I’m a birthright Friend,’ she said somberly, ‘and in sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me.’ She paused and I started sinking in despair. Was this woman telling me that the Quaker concept of God’s guidance was a hoax?

Then she spoke again, this time with a grin, ‘But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding principle.'”

I laughed with her, laughed long and loud, the kind of laughter that comes when a simple truth exposes your heart for the needless neurotic mess it has become…

Ruth’s honesty gave me a new way to look at my vocational journey, and my experience has long since confirmed the lesson she taught me that day: there is as much guidance at what does not and cannot happen in life as there is in what can and does–maybe more.

Each of us arrives here with a nature, which means both limits and potentials. We can learn as much about our nature by running into our limits as by experiencing our potentials. That, I think, is what Ruth and life were trying to teach me.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation:

When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about the darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known. As the darkness began to descend on me in my early twenties, I felt I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize that I had merely embarked upon a journey toward joining the human race.

Other quotes:

“Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?” 

 “But before we come to that center, full of light, we must travel in the dark. Darkness is not the whole of the story–every pilgrimage has passages of loveliness and joy–but it is the part of the story most often left untold. When we finally accept the darkness and stumble into the light, it is tempting to tell others that our hope never flagged, to deny those long hours spent cowering in fear.

The experience of darkness has been essential to my coming into selfhood, and telling the truth about that fact helps me stay in the light. But I want to tell that truth for another reason as well: many young people today journey into the dark, as the young always have, and we elders do them a disservice when we withhold the shadowy parts of our lives.”

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God.”

“Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free ‘travel packages’ sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage–‘a transformative journey to a sacred center’ full of hardships, darkness, and peril.

In the tradition of pilgrimage, those hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself. Treacherous terrain, bad weather, taking a fall, getting lost–challenges of that sort, largely beyond our control, can strip the ego of the illusion that it is in charge and make space for true self to emerge. If that happens, the pilgrim has a better chance to find the sacred center he or she seeks.  Disabused of our illusions by much travel and travail, we awaken one day to find that the sacred center is here and now–in every moment of the journey, everywhere in our world around us, and deep within our own hearts.”

“What a long time it takes to become the person one has always been….much dissolving and shaking of ego we must (be) endure(d) before we discover our deep identity–the true self in every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.”

“Before you tell your life life what you intend to do with it listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths and values you embody, what values you represent.” 

“As a young man, I yearned for the day when, rooted in the experience that comes only with age, I could do my work fearlessly. But today, in my mid-sixties, I realize that I will feel fear from time to time for the rest of my life. I may never get rid of my fear. But . . . I can learn to walk into it and through it whenever it rises up . . . naming the inner force that triggers . . . fear . . . Naming our fears aloud . . . is the first step toward transcending them.”

“We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonoring its mystery never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs.”

“Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching’s great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.”

“Embracing the mystery of depression does not mean passivity or resignation.  It means moving into a field of forces that seems alien but is in fact one’s deepest self. It means waiting, watching, listening, suffering, and gathering whatever self-knowledge, no matter how difficult.  One begins the slow walk back to health by choosing each day things that enliven one’s selfhood and resisting things that do not.”

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