A friend helpfully directed me to a series of posts reviewing / interacting with Parker Palmer’s book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring. My copy, the Jossey-Bass paperback was published in 1999.
Here’s an excerpt from the first post (Chapter 1 of 8) published on the Kruse Kronicle (Michael W. Kruse from Kansas City, MO):
“…In the spiritual literature of our time, it is not difficult to find the world of action portrayed as an arena of ego and power, while the world of contemplation is pictured as a realm of light and grace. I have often read, for example that the treasure of the “true self” can be found as we draw back from active life and enter into contemplative prayer. Less often have I read that this treasure can be found in our struggles to work, create, and care in the world of action.
Contemporary images of what it means to be spiritual tend to value the inward search over the outward act, silence over sound, solitude over interaction, centeredness and quietude and balance over engagement and animation and struggle. …” (Palmer, The Active Life p.2)
“…The healthy community is one that leaves the solitude, the integrity, of each individual intact; if its members do not respect their own solitude, they will continually violate the solitude of others. The only thing we have to bring to community is ourselves, so the contemplative process of recovering our true selves in solitude is never selfish. It is ultimately the best gift we can give to others…” (Palmer, The Active Life p.29)
This section of chapter 2 continues in a fascinating way by talking about what Thomas Merton calls the need to “attend to hidden wholeness that lies beneath the broken surface of our lives…” What struck me is the sense that this hidden wholeness is something that already exists; it’s not something we create. It’s something we discover. He also usefully engages the insights of the ever insightful and wise Annie Dillard (via her book Teaching A Stone to Talk) – Paul.
“…The skills we are most aware of possessing are often those we have acquired only through long hours of study and practice, at considerable financial or personal cost. Precisely because these skills once cost us effort to acquire, and still cost us effort to employ, we are acutely aware of owning them. Ironically, these self-conscious skills are often not our leading strengths; if they were, they would not be so effortful. But they are our strengths upon which we sometimes build our identities and our careers – though we build on an anxious, uncertain foundation. Meanwhile, our native, instinctive gifts either languish unused and unappreciated or get used unconsciously without being named and claimed…”(Palmer, The Active Life p.66)
“…Our action is often a mixture of ego and innocence, and we will not become whole until we can embrace that simple fact. If we wait for purity of motive, we will never act, or our action will be immaterial. If we abandon hope for a ‘second innocence,’ our action will merely multiply cynicism…” (Palmer, The Active Life p.82)
“… But the temptation that afflicts many of us is that of weak ego—the temptation to think of ourselves as irrelevant, powerless, and utterly mundane, as people in whom Satan would never have the slightest interest.
On the surface, the temptations of the strong ego and the weak ego seem quite contrary to one another. But paradoxically, their origins and outcomes are the same. Both destroy our capacity for right action because both proceed from the same mistaken premise: the assumption that effective action requires us to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular, that only by being so can we have a real impact on the world…” (Palmer, The Active Life p.114)
“…But even as we act to evoke community, we must remember that community itself is a gift to be received, not a goal to be achieved. We have a strong tendency to make community one more project among many, to struggle and strain to come into relationship with one another, only to find that the stress of the very efforts exhausts us and drives us apart. Still, time after time we try to “make” community happen in the same effortful and self-defeating ways. Why? Because as long as we are the makers, we remain in control; and as long as we are in control, we will not be vulnerable to the risks of true community…” (Palmer, The Active Life p.136)
“…I have sometimes feared life itself, and the movement toward new life, more than I have feared death in its various forms…” (Palmer, The Active Life p.140)