Posts Tagged With: Parker Palmer

Sanctuary, Robin Williams – Thoughts

The blog entry below is a ‘move-over’ from a Facebook status-musing this morning, with a little editing and a few adds.  I thought it worth contributing to the conversation, the meaning-making, the mourning, the hopes…

robin-williams-desktop-wallpapers-1So many things swirl around the internet and social media – and in my own thoughts, prayer, reflection – with Robin Williams’ death.  Video clips, recent or decades old interviews or parts played, the reactions of friends, fans and celebrities: tons of short and long features and reflections are available for review.  And I’ve paged and viewed a good number, stunned, along with the many others sharing the experience and coping some with the loss of such a gifted artist  in such a tragic way by doing so in common, remembering him and being inspired by his work.  His career and his way of being in the world – comedic and vulnerable, real and ragged – and his way of telling stories – these made him very accessible to many of us, as if we had a decades-long relationship with him as a brilliant-quirky-wise-sad-hysterical-laugh-out-loud relative in our extended families.

Among all swirling in my own heart and mind this morning, this comes through and holds my attention.

We all need refuge: places and people and perspectives and ways to access truth that we can run to and lean on not only in great need, but in the beauty and terror we experience in echoes in everyday. We need to know ourselves known and seen and embraced and accompanied. We need practices and pathways to help us stand in the truth that we are immensely loved and unshakeably safe, especially in storms and confusion and pain which all experience.

Robin’s death brings to mind the need we all have for sanctuary. So that is my prayer… a dwelling with this word, this reality… sanctuary.  How can we find it? Be it? Create it for each other? In our vulnerability receive it? In our grasping or addictions not withhold it from each other?

And, as I consider this, I wonder how this relates, yes, to Robin’s amazing life/gifts/pain/need/struggles and our own. But also our need for sanctuary, and our struggles to find it (sometimes, in our perception, over and against others) speaks to me of children on borders, of violence in relationships or in the Middle East and anywhere on our globe or in our homes, of people isolated due to illness or age or limitations or labels or even our/their own disastrous choices.  We are fragile and fascinating and amazing and in need.

If we come – and we do – from Trinity Love, and live too within the circle of that embrace, can we learn and taste and access and become truly sanctuary with and for each other in our world? I hope so.

I need sanctuary. Don’t you? Let us help each other find it. Let us create it with our words and glances, our sensitivities and welcomes, our policies and politics, our anthropologies and theologies and ecclesiologies, and our listening. Let us send each other ‘home’ and protect the silence around one another, as we each do the necessary work of presence and patience, nurturing what emerges and is formed in us slowly and gradually. Our souls are shy, Parker Palmer has liked to tell us.*  They need safe places to thrive, to find what is true, to seek integrity, to come to be.  Let us be harbor-sanctuary seekers and makers, releasing smaller efforts that close us and others off.  Let us cease judgments and violences, and all the ways we isolate each other and ourselves. We need conversions and transformations as individuals and as a human race…. and to accept the Grace in abundance available for our turning and learning.

It is simply true that life’s cycles and challenges are difficult. (We’ve all heard that growing old is not for wimps or sissies! ) Deaths and resurrections, both.  May we pursue working for sanctuary gently, yet boldly – and daily.

And for those in struggle, the psalm song refrain of a loved prayer echoes for me:  “Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.  Be with me Lord.  Be with me.  Be with me, Lord, when I am in trouble.  Be with me Lord.  Be with me.”  Be with us, Lord, each and all… and remind us of your presence. Mend our freedom and our sight – from all our specific impairments – so that we may choose the good, affirm the good, learn joy, trust, and build havens and harbors, and frequently visit them for our strength and empowering.

Robin, RIP.

Friends, will you join me in prayer and reflection with the word SANCTUARY, and anything it touches, calls, incites, invites in you?

*  Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness, is elegantly expressive on this point.

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Closed Doors are Good Things!

What? How can that be?  I’m trying to go FORWARD, thanks!  I don’t need any closed doors.  I’m looking for open ones.

Recently, I’ve been reminded of an image from Parker Palmer’s wonderful little book Let Your Life Speak.  In it, he describes a conversation he had as a young adult with an older woman who was a Friend (Quaker) at Pendle Hill, a Quaker community where he was living at the time.  Parker was struggling to know his direction ahead, given his vocational journey at that point seemed to him a bit of a bust.  He was at a loss, as what he thought he wanted and where he thought he had been going had fallen apart behind him.  Now, there was much language within the Pendle Hill community about finding the Way Open.  This frustrated him.  And he vented about it to this woman wise in years and experience.  He exclaimed – I can imagine with an onerous tone of doom – that he couldn’t find the Way Open, there simply were none for him.  The woman listened to Parker wear out his tale and, after a moment of silence (and, I imagine, perhaps a chuckle that originated deep within her) she said something like, “I’m 80-something years old and I’ve been a Friend all my life.  I’ve never seen or found the Way Open.  But I’ve had a lot of Ways Close behind me, and they set the path.”  

On recounting this story to a friend-companion years ago, I remember her image of it as gates closing behind animals on a farm.  The very gates closing are the herding processes that move them to where they need to be. 

Perhaps you and I are “herded” forward too by the doors and gates that close behind us.  They may be closed because of actions of ours or others.  Events or circumstances may close them.  For whatever reason, they make inaccessible a certain path and the Way ahead is uncertain.  And yet, there is a direction — not there, but here.  The only Way is ahead, forget trying to determine which way.  As you approach narrowing entrances, you’ll see what’s open or not… and, if it’s not, that too is a herding.  If the doorway is open but requires you to cut out your heart or compromise your core values to get through… proceed forward only at risk of not finding yourself on the other side. 

Of course we all need to build experiences, nudge doors, claim directions — but often this kind of energy is the absolute driver of the first half of life.  In life’s second half, or in its seasons of wisdom – whatever our age, we look behind to see what is no longer an option and we choose ahead step by step with less frantic flight.  Our value is not to be found in a perfect journey.  What is that, anyway?  We are already of great value before any steps are taken.  Loved.  Held.  By a God of grace who is our refuge and strength.  We are not mice in a maze, but fearfully wonderfully made and much loved Creations who can learn to step in time with our gifts and to learn and give from our woundedness as well. 

Closed doors then are good things.  But they aren’t often fun when we encounter them: we prefer open spaces and smooth sailing.  Closings feel confining, perhaps sad, and they may prompt regrets or anger or guilt or confusion.  That’s okay – perhaps shed a tear or ask forgiveness or listen for the learning.  But then, breathe – and turn away from them!  

Closed doors provide something very positive to us – null data!  Researchers know that such data is very important.  It tells us what something is not or what doesn’t work in an experiment or process.  These doors in your lives tell you where you are not, and where you can no longer be, and where you cannot go ahead.  Let them herd you some, and then listen – so your life can be heard – and follow.  Maybe what is closing behind you is even a birth canal – no turning back!  Expect new life and lusty screaming as you enter a new way ahead simply by leaving the old! 

I think this is something of what Palmer means when he speaks of learning to let your life live in you.  “Relax,” he seems to say.  “Live your real life.  Where you really are.”  And let’s get support as we learn to trust life’s unfolding treasure-giving, whether it comes with kudos or closings.  Blessings on our journeyings – yours and mine and ours!  “The Lord will guard your coming and your going, both now and forever.”   (Psalm 121: 8)

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Let Your Life Speak

It’s an adventure, this uncovering and discovering direction in life and love and ministry and mission.  These weeks, filled with transitions and graduations for so many, I celebrate friends and colleagues, companions and clients who are making steps in the direction of what draws them.  They do so with courage, which is about acting and living with heart (French: coeur).  This does not mean there is no fear felt, or that self limiting actions or beliefs that have been habitual do not drag and dog their steps (as they do for us all).  But they walk the journey.  And faithfulness to the journey is its own success.  We look to where we are lured, and pray ‘make us wise in our ways’, Lord. 

Parker Palmer’s little book Let Your Life Speak has often been a source of reflection for me.   Palmer respects the hardwiring of our very being, and invites us into the art of humble attending to the mystery that is us unfolding.  When we speak of vocation or call, we also often hear the quote from Frederick Buechner that tells us we are called to where our deep gladness and the world’s deep needs meet.  Sebastian Moore tells us sagely that “Love is desire trying to happen” – and we can reflect on what we desire and how love draws us along the paths most aligned to the intricate uniqueness that is each of our very being-ness.

Can we believe that our very form and shape and loves and dreams – the best of us – can give us the data to determine for what giving and living we are best suited?  Can we look at our values, our dreams, our hopes, and proceed on a treasure hunt that finds the gems of clear brilliance beneath them that are God’s gifts and our deepest identity, within that of simply being God’s beloved one?  Can we look at our lifeway and lifework* as ways of expression and self gift that we can learn to craft with confidence?

Palmer talks in his little text, and elsewhere (see A Hidden Wholeness), of the soul being shy.  We need contexts where we can listen to our own souls, where what is truest and best in us is safe to come forward, where what is feared can be heard and understood, where what is in our way can be identified, where we can turn and return, where we can sing and cry freely, where what is most real can be determined.  These places are most often found in relationships – the most important one with the God who loves us and is thrilled with the work of art we are.  This is a God who dances over and with us!  In contrast, this is part of the reason why experiences in difficult or disastrous relationships really harm us.  They make our souls go underground, and prompt us at times to live a life more safe that is not our most real one.  Trust of ourselves becomes perhaps more difficult even than trust of others, for we know ourselves to be fragile. 

In times of discernment we often invite one another to listen.  Obedience is about having such an open ear.  Such openness must sometimes be coaxed from us, for we fear.  What if we cannot find where we belong?  What if what we thought isn’t right?  What if we make a wrong choice?  What if we hurt others or get hurt?  What if I’ve been fooling myself and others all along?  What if I’m just not up to – the work, the life?  What if I get lost forever in the wilderness or the dark, without a clue as to a path?  Such questions haunt and harm us.  They take us in circles that can become tornado spirals of distraction or distrust.  We have to learn to shush these, to give play to the now.  To trust in just this step.

Simple faithfulness to this present step, in line with Gospel learnings and values and our own paths to embodying these, is the way to the next step.  We are not given to know the next step… or what would have happened if.  These are mirages.  The adventure of vocation and call and journey is always in this moment.  I am never ready for the next moment – but I am always fine in this one. 

Creation’s beauty and seasons often bring me back to this moment.  The dogwood blossoms are mostly gone now, but the green leaves of spring on the tree are full of life.  The tulips are past and the tomatoes not yet planted, but the azaleas are gorgeous right now.  It is easy for me to let nature speak.  Can I, can you, can we let our lives speak and notice what God would tell us in this moment with the same attentiveness? 

Creation’s seasons are not all spring, and neither is this true in our individual and collective journeyings.  The now may be full of parting or painful transition, questions or challenges, lost or changed life and baffling contradictions.  In these moments too, we can bring attention and listen.  Even – perhaps especially – here, we need to remember that we are safe in a relationship of love that wants us to be who and what we most truly are.  Here, if we have great heart, we can learn to live the courage of being true to what our lives speak even then.  Here we are taught to trust and to celebrate.

Happily, the terrain of life is varied.  It unfolds quickly-slowly through the mystery of time that is chronos and kairos.  We are keen observers one moment, and sleepwalkers the next.  What can be our wish for our own lives and for those at particular turnings?

May we learn to lean confidently into the arms of God who is the God who invites us, in Jesus, to full and abundant life.  May we experience life’s variety as adventure and exploration, knowing that – whether we feel it or not – we are never alone and always in a safe relationship where our shy souls can come forth.  May we celebrate steps we see others taking with courage and faith – and our own – and support one another as sojourners and pilgrims.  May we dance life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that – whether we can understand what is said or not – our lives are speaking and have meaning and are best lived in generous expenditure in love, in imitation of Jesus.

For all those in flux, in discernment, in transition – be here, walk gently, see creation, call on God-with-us, dance, listen, and let your life whisper to you.   May it shout and sing and simply abide with you.  May you know the company of the story that is your life’s unfolding as comfort and steadiness.  Go gently in this moment, and then the next, remembering that “The Lord will bless your comings and your goings, now and forever.”  (Psalms)

* Lifeway and Lifework are terms used in a chapter by James Michael Lee in a text entitled The Spirituality of the Religious Educator

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