Monday, July 11, 2011

Book: "Let Your Life Speak"

AUTHOR: Parker Palmer
PUBLISHER: San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of VocationThe author writes this book as a personal pilgrimage through not one but two deep depressions in his life as a writer, teacher, and activist in issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change. He begins the book with a statement: “Asking me whether what I have done is my life”. His words throughout the book emanates with painful reflections of his struggles to be honest with himself as well as the frustrations with well-intentioned people giving him counsel which only served to depress him further, like Job with his four friends. His main point is that: The voice of vocation does not come from outside but from inside.

In a compelling personal testimony about his depression, he shares about his progression from “wearing other people’s faces” toward becoming the authentic self, to listen to his inside voice. He is quick to point out that there is no self-hood outside of relationship, and that only when by knowing one’s inner voice can one embody the great commandment to love both neighbour and self. His journey does not come easy. It is via a year-long sabbatical in a Quaker live-and-learn community that leads him to a transformative experience. This Quaker experience that taught him guidance is not simply a matter of doors being opened for him. Doors that close behind him can guide as well. Yet the depression remains.

In the deepest and darkest moments of depression, as he hit muddy ground he discovers that humus (latin for decayed organic matter), is the root for words like humility and humiliation. With elegant reconciliation of his experiences, he begins to see himself as a person of weakness AND stength, liability AND giftedness, darkness AND light. Collectively, to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it. Thus began his path of recovery. His eventual understanding of depression is memorable:

“Depression was, indeed, the hand of a friend trying to press me down to ground on which it was safe to stand – the ground of my own truth, my own nature, with its complex mix of limits and gifts, liabilities and assets, darkness and light. ” (67)

The rest of the book is imbued with a beautiful sense of waiting, hoping and ultimate splendour of joy. Palmer uses the four seasons to describe the journey of life. The decline of Autumn, the deadness of Winter and the romance of Spring all work together towards an abundant summertime harvest of happiness and joy. Summer is a season where the promissory notes of autumn, winter and spring come due. In summer, it becomes easy to forget that before summer, was the awful process of the previous three seasons. Death is finally understood to be a legacy to the community of abundant life.
Parker takes great care to explain that probing inwards towards self, or selfhood is not the same as selfishness. Neither is it egoism nor egotism. The reason for this emphasis is to counter the modern belief that trusts more the power of external realities rather than the power of inner life. In this sense, it is more of striking a proper balance rather than mere crusading for inner living.

This book has touched the lives of many, including this reviewer. Vocation is not something that people bother to consider as seriously as what Parker did. Even the word ‘vocation’ has too often been equated wrongly with a job or a career. A job is something one do for a living. Vocation is much more than that. It is a calling, a listening for the voice within, a recognition of who one really is, and an honest affirmation that the life before it can be lived, has to be heard first from within.
This book not just for those seeking to understand their vocation in life. It gives the reader an insight into one person’s journey through depression. Ultimately, it is an honest book that refuses to wear the mask of others. It is a book where the author hoped that people will learn to treasure their most important gift: True Self.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


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