August 20, 2005

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer

pink dusk light reflected on a riverThis is a tiny little book (110 small pages) subtitled "listening for the voice of vocation". It was being used for a study in a mid-life spirituality group a few of our friends are in. We joined in. I don't do well with reading books a chapter at a time for a meeting. I tend to put it off until the last minute and then read the chapter even more quickly than usual and then go to the study, and then put the book down until it's time to cram for the next one. But while my appreciation of the book was hindered by this format, I did like what I read and will probably read it again some time.

The book is a collection of essays on various topics orbiting around the idea of vocation where "vocation" is close to Frederick Buechner's wonderful definition: the work that you most need to do that the world most needs to have done. The book concentrates mostly on the first half of that equation. Palmer tells about his own personal journey toward his vocation and in the process helps illuminate a common path that can lead us to our own most appropriate destination. Palmer is a Quaker, so the book is written with a religious bent, but it's a quiet and thoughtful religiosity that I think few could find offensive.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Palmer's description of the process he used to make a difficult vocational decision. It's a Quaker practice called a "clearness committee" where Palmer assembled half a dozen of his most trusted friends for a three hour meeting. Rather than giving him advice, their job was to ask him honest, open questions aimed at helping him discover his own inner truth. The process was simultaneously excruciating and liberating as his friends helped him to cut through the bullshit stories he had been telling himself and get to the truth that was a little too scary to face on his own.

It's this sense of thoughtful honesty that makes the book so engaging. Plus you've got to like someone who can write these sentences: "Years ago, someone told me that humility is central to the spiritual life. That made sense to me: I was proud to think of myself as humble!"

Posted by jeffy at August 20, 2005 03:10 PM