One of my all-time favorite books is a slim little volume by Parker Palmer called Let Your life Speak. Far from a how-to book, it’s a reflection of the author’s quest to discover his vocation. On page 2 he admits to moments when “the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me.” This awareness became for Palmer the doorway into the deep questions of his life’s meaning and purpose.
I’ve purchased at least a dozen copies of Let Your Life Speak over the years. I have loaned it or given it away so often that, yet again, I do not have a copy of my own. That is because what people who visit with me most often want to talk about is some variation on Palmer’s sobering self-awareness.
I understand, for I too am a vocation sleuth. Mostly I've learned about the life that wants to live in me by bumping into walls when I made a choice that was ridiculous for me. Like majoring in fashion merchandising as a freshman in college. When for the final exam in a clothing construction class I ended up with two left arms for the dress I was making--the night before it was due--that was a clue. When in a design class all my models looked like penguins because I couldn't get the feet right, that was another clue. It was apparent to everyone but me that I had absolutely no talent or giftedness to be part of the fashion world.
Palmer's forbearance with his own missteps is one reason Let Your Life Speak is such a helpful and reassuring book. I began to get on the right track when I eventually found my way to the history department. Then I noticed that no matter what class I was taking, whenever we had to produce a paper, mine was inevitably focused on something to do with religion. Colonial America? My paper was on the Great Awakening. Russian Revolution? Tsarina Alexandra's attachment to the self-proclaimed holy man, Rasputin. Civil Rights Movement? Martin Luther King’s understanding of salvation. No matter what the topic, religion was the lens through which I wanted to understand history.
Another important clue came when I began teaching an adult Sunday school class at the Baptist church I attended. We used "quarterlies" published by the Sunday school board in Nashville, and I thought they were awful. My tenure as a teacher consisted of provoking the class to argue with the lessons we were given. I learned from this experience that questioning was an important part of my faith journey and that when I was willing to share my own questions, others felt freer to do the same. We had wonderfully lively discussions in that class, and gradually I felt a growing hunger, not to just argue, but for a faith that made sense and was strong enough to stake my life on.
It would be years before I went to seminary. Many years after that to find my way to Calvary Episcopal Church. Even now, I find that listening to my life, as Palmer suggests, is a good thing to do.
Christians all over the world are poised to begin the journey of Lent. Some of us will give something up as a token of our devotion. Others will take on a new spiritual practice as a way to deepen our commitments. If you are looking for a way to observe Lent this year, consider living with Parker Palmer’s haunting question: Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?
Wow again, Eyleen. I'll visit Amazon or B&N right away to get that book! I was wondering what my Lenten paper discipline would be before today. Appropo in light of my new interest in gardening with Thistle & Bee. Thanks for sharing.
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