By Ingrid Lochamire
“Feel at home in your own skin. Show up as your true self.”
“Unmade decisions hold a lot of power.”
“The decision is rarely the point. Union with Christ is the point.”
Award-winning author, speaker, advocate and activist Parker J. Palmer is supremely quotable. With eight decades of life in his pocket, Palmer doesn’t have to dig deep to mine nuggets of wisdom harvested over his lifetime. The author of 10 books and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, Palmer is not only prolific, he is generous. Two titles that are serving me well in this season of growing “deeper roots in the dirt and light of midlife” are Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation and On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.
I am blessed to mentor younger women. Their trust is a fragile gift and walking alongside them as they mature both spiritually and emotionally is a calling I do not take lightly. I’ve sought out mentors my whole life, both in person and on the page. Palmer is proving to be a worthy guide, offering clarity and inspiration on this leg of my journey. On days when I’m ready to hang up my hat as a mentor and spiritual leader and retire to an easy chair, Palmer and my long-time mentor Jill Briscoe urge me to stay the course “all the way home.”
I first became aware of Palmer in the spring of 2018 at the Festival of Faith and Writing on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Always at this biannual event, I strive to preserve enough energy to take in the evening plenary session. Usually it’s at the end of a long day of workshops and conversations and walking across campus (lots of walking across campus). The guest speaker the first evening was a man whose name was foreign to me. I almost didn’t choose to sit in the audience to hear words from Palmer because I didn’t really know who he was. I’d also never heard of Carrie Newcomer, the musician who would be presenting with him. But, throughout the day I’d heard so many people say “I love Parker Palmer” that I knew I must attend. The bonus of hearing a new-to-me folk singer sealed the deal.
Oh, the treasure I would have missed had I not fought fatigue to be present!
With wit and vulnerability, boldness and warm sentiment, this gray-haired fellow held us in the palm of his hand as he dispensed nuggets of hard-won wisdom laced with ironic humor. Much of what he shared on that spring evening, and what he offers in Let Your Life Speak and On the Brink of Everything, has been gleaned from a life spent living the Rule of St. Benedict: “Daily keep your death before your eyes.” In those few hours (and in his two small memoirs) Palmer also reminded us of Socrates’ fatal declaration: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Palmer has been living an examined life for the past 50 years. Inspired by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, Palmer once considered joining a monastic community. The fact that in his mid-30s he was married with three children proved to be the obstacle that prevented his “monkhood.” Instead, he “went in search of some way to live as a contemplative amid the world’s madness.” At the end of his quest, he found Quaker meetings most compatible with his temperament and adopted his own brand of the contemplative life.
The fruit of his contemplation and his honest quest to feel at home in his own skin are a gift to those who read or listen to his musings. In both his writing and speaking, Palmer picks through truths he’s encountered in the poetry, classic literature and philosophy of others. Dishing up servings of the feast he calls life, Palmer serves us well as a trustworthy sage and guide. His passion for encouraging self-examination, exploring the beauty of nature and promoting equality and justice for the human race challenge and inspire.
My copies of these two books are riddled with highlights, underlining, exclamation marks and (forgive me) hearts. These slim volumes are guidebooks I will return to again and again as I strive to finish well.
One last Palmer nugget for rumination as you “daily keep your death before your eyes”:
“The spiritual journey is an endless process of engaging life as it is, stripping away our illusions about ourselves, our world and the relationship of the two, moving closer to reality as we do.”
Ingrid Lochamire is a former news reporter and award-winning feature writer for a regional news outlet. She “retired” from journalism to homeschool her four sons, now all graduated. Ingrid and her husband live in a 140-year-old farm house in northeast Indiana, where she shares her own “slice of life” experiences and reflections on her blog and elsewhere. Ingrid’s work has appeared on various websites and in the literary journal Topology. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild, and her essays have been featured in The Redbud Post. Her self-published book One Man’s Work is a collection of stories from her father’s life.