In December, I heard a wonderful interview with Parker Palmer (read transcript or listen) on American Public Media’s radio show, Speaking of Faith by Krista Tippett. It was a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon just before the holidays and I was working on beading projects for gifts. I felt the edge of melancholy and the iciness of winter settling in around me. I had these colorful projects all around me and I turned on my local NPR station to fortuitously catch Speaking of Faith, which I had not heard before. Even more special was that Parker Palmer with the special guest on the show, an author that was recommended to me 3 years ago. Palmer’s books were high on my list to read next, whenever “next” would be. After hearing the interview, I knew the time to read Palmer was upon me. I have just finished Let Your Life Speak (Jossey-Bass, 2000) after reading through twice. You know you have a good book on your hands when it’s all you can do to read the work again. Even better, I made notes the second time around.

This is a deeply personal and moving book. Parker Palmer is a beautifully honest person and I am inspired by his words of faith, hope and courage. He writes in such a personal way that you have a sense of conversation with him. His writing is so effective that it reaches the core and soul after only a few sentences. This is a book to read many times throughout a lifetime and one to share as a mentor or with family and friends. The meaning and impact will change individually at different points in a lifetime. That’s the beauty of this book – it’s so adaptable for any age and at those crossroads moments we all experience.

At first glance, this is a vocational guidance book. To clarify: A spiritual vocational guidance book. On a deeper level, this gives more insights on the path of life than originally realized and that’s where reading for a second time will reveal more.

Filled with wonderful quotes, poetry, analogies, and allegories, Palmer illustrates the path of listening to our inner voice to discover our true selves, whether or not encountering a vocational guidance issue. Some of the most meaningful quotations from the book include:

  • “Vocation is not a goal to be achieved, but a gift to be received.”
  • “What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been.”
  • “Vocation is not a voice “out there” – it comes from “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be.”
  • The deepest vocational question is “Who am I? What is my nature?”

Palmer also relates stories of Rosa Parks and how she found her courage to be strong in the faces of ultimate challenges (page 32-33) and also relates the poetry of May Sarton (Now I Become Myself) and William Stafford (Ask Me) and foundations for understanding life changes, decisions, light and darkness, quiet solitude and reflection.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker (aka Religious Society of Friends) who is devoted to education and writing, also relates his own personal story of clinical depression and the essential pieces he learned from the harrowing experience. His metaphors for light and darkness, the four seasons of our life and shadow-casting monsters illustrate the glorious connection to nature and biology that is essential to our human-ness. For anyone facing the bleakness of depression, read Chapter IV for the insight and perception that he lends to his readers. While not overtly about depression, Let Your Life Speak may be just the book someone facing depression may need to gain a deeper understanding of just such an experience.

Lastly, Palmer writes about the Quaker belief of “Way” (more on “way” by Quaker minister Brent Bill) and how our own individual and unique ways or paths may (or may not) open to us. Another view is to see how way closes behind us. This belief may or may not resonate to readers, and it’s an intriguing concept to ponder, and can be very much based on our own unique world-views.  Each reader will need to determine their own beliefs about “way” and how our lives can open or close to “way.”

For more on Parker Palmer, visit the Center for Courage & Renewal and read his bio.

Read an excerpt of Let your Life Speak from Explorefaith.org.

For more books on Quakerism, try these titles:

  • Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings (HarperOne, 2005)
  • An Introduction to Quakerism by Pink Dandelion (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Practicing Peace: A Devotional Walk Through the Quaker Tradition by Catherine Whitmire (Sorin Books, 2007)
  • More titles at Quakerbooks.org
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