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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 – 9:50am
Photo by Chris Ford
BY PARKER J. PALMER (@PARKERJPALMER), WEEKLY COLUMNIST

A while back, I saw that my 21 year-old granddaughter had posted a quote from one of my books on her Facebook page. I was honored, of course.

Because my granddaughter is a lot smarter than I am about a lot of things, I thought I ought to take a look at what I wrote in that book.  Maybe there was something to it!

So here’s a story about what I was struggling with in my late thirties, when I lived and worked at Pendle Hill, the Quaker living-learning community near Philadelphia.

I was trying and failing to find a new direction for my life, and feeling very discouraged about it, when I got some life-changing counsel from an older woman named Ruth.

I’m older now than Ruth was then, but her counsel continues to guide me. If someone else finds it helpful, I’ll be glad I passed her wisdom along…

“If I were to discover a new direction, I though, it would be at Pendle Hill, a community rooted in prayer, study, and a vision of human possibility. But when I arrived and started sharing my vocational quandary, people responded with a traditional Quaker counsel that, despite all the good intentions, left me even more discouraged. ‘Have faith,’ they said, ‘and way will open.’

‘I have faith,’ I thought to myself. ‘What I don’t have is time to wait for “way” to open. I’m approaching middle age at warp speed, and I have yet to find a vocational path that feels right. The only way that’s opened so far is the wrong way.’

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 opening. I’ve been trying to find my vocation for a long time, and I still don’t have the foggiest idea of what I’m meant to do. Way may open for other people, but it’s sure not opening for me.’

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

I laughed with her, laughed loud and long, the kind of laughter that comes when a simple truth exposes your heart for the needlessly 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 in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does — maybe more.”

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.

I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand.

I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing.

I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

–David Whyte

from Fire in the Earth

 

 

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory