The Soul Is Shy: Parker Palmer


Great piece from Parker Palmers book "Hidden Wholeness" about the soul…MC


The soul is like a wild animal…tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient:  it knows how to survive in hard places.  I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression.  In that deadly darkness, the faculties I had always depended on collapsed.  My intellect was useless; my emotions were dead; my will was impotent; my ego was shattered. But from time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die.  That something was my tough and tenacious soul.

Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy.  Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around.  If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.  But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree, breathe with the earth, and fade into our surroundings, the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance.  We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye—but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself.

Unfortunately, community in our culture too often means a group of people who go crashing through the woods together, scaring the soul away.  In spaces ranging from congregations to classrooms, we preach and teach, assert and argue, claim and proclaim, admonish and advise, and generally behave in ways that drive everything original and wild into hiding. Under these conditions, the intellect, emotions, will and ego may emerge, but not the soul:  we scare off all the soulful things, like respectful relationships, goodwill, and hope.

The people who help us grow toward true self offer unconditional love, neither judging us to be deficient nor trying to force us to change but accepting us exactly as we are.  And yet this unconditional love does not lead us to rest on our laurels. Instead, it surrounds us with a charged force field that makes us want to grow from the inside out—a force field that is safe enough to take the risks and endure the failures that growth requires.

Circles of trust combine unconditional love, or regard, with hopeful expectancy, creating a space that both safeguards and encourages the inner journey.  In such a space, we are freed to hear our own truth, touch what brings us joy, become self-critical about our faults, and take risky steps toward change,–knowing that we will be accepted no matter what the outcome.


Hidden Wholenss

By Parker J. Palmer, p. 59, 60.


mirror, mirror on the wall…

I remember those lines. They were delivered with such a drippingly powerful intensity that you actually felt sorry for the mirror!

"mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all."

The wicked queen was not gazing into the mirror for truth, but for vanity and ego appeasement. When we look into a mirror we have the choice to look inward and grow, or deflect what we see and live in the land of denial which ultimately shrivels the soul, and diminishes the truth about God.

A person who leads or teaches has the capacity to enlarge their soul in greater proportions than those she/he leads. A great leader or teacher is not one who simply regurgitates data to an audience, but one who dances in and out of the truth, sweating through the unknown in order to create an atmosphere of epiphany and understanding.

In my own world, most often as I wrestle with the things that I am to teach in the realm of spiritual formation or leadership, I am faced with my own inadequacies, brokenness, and desperate need of God.

One of my leadership life commandments has been that: "I won't be like a travel agent who sells people on a destination that he himself has never been." That means that I have had to lay my soul on the altar over and over again.

Education has a cost. It is the cost of integrity forming in us what we have learned. If we do not allow what we have be enlightened with or to, to transform us, we have chosen to leave the gift unopened.

I have found that it is easier to regurgitate information, or prepare a great and enthusiastic speech about places we have never been than it is to set the ego aside, admit our self-focus as well as our self-hatred at times, and allow God to move through us. But the results of the latter far outweigh the former.

In Parker Palmer's great book, "The Courage To Teach" he notes:

"Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one's inwardness,
better or worse. As I teach I project the condition of my soul onto my
my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I
experience in the
classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner
Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am
willing to
look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain
self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as
knowing my
students and my subject." 

When we don't like what we see in the mirror of enlightenment, we have a divine choice…we can either move toward what frightens us, and grow, or back away reducing our depth and self-understanding to information distribution.

The condition of our soul enters into everything we do as humans. The way we relate or don't relate. The way we choose to respond or thoughtlessly react. The way we communicate through a discussion or evade one altogether. The way we dialog through conflict or deny their is conflict.

Teaching/leading has created an atmosphere in my life where I have to continually look in the mirror and do something about what I see. Though it's never easy, and often painful, it is also a great blessing. The more I deal with and heal the image of myself in the mirror, the more I heal the man-made image of God I also carry in my soul.

When we look in the mirror, we often see a Pandora's box of paradox, In the book "The Ragamuffin' Gospel" Brennan Manning noted the following as he honestly assessed his heart:

"When I get honest, I admit
I am a bundle
of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love
and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not
guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play
Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an
capacity for beer."

Brennan has a great way with words! Often when we see the paradoxes that dwell within they scare us and we stop looking. We are afraid of being accepted by God and others due to what we see that we don't like. So we live a life of cover-up or performance hoping -that- will make up for the deficiencies we see in our lives. But this simply creates a new religion for you to live out…Christ came to free you from that trap. I like how Manning re-centers us on the Gospel of God's grace:

God's love is based on
and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based
on anything we do, and that "anything" were to collapse, then God's love
would crumble as well. But with the God of Jesus no such thing can
happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the fullest.
Atlas, who carries the whole world? We have Christian Atlases who
carry the burden of trying to deserve God's love. Even the mere watching
of this lifestyle is depressing. I'd like to say to Atlas: 'Put that
down and dance on it. That's why God made it.' And to the weary
Atlases: "Lay down your load and build your life on God's love." We
have to earn this love; neither do we have to support it. It is a free
gift. Jesus calls out: "Come to me, all you Atlases who are weary and
life burdensome, and I will refresh you."

If you have never stepped out in leadership, or decided to teach someone else, let me encourage you to look for an opportunity. It will cause you to look at who you truly are. It will create an awareness of who your really are. It will force you to consider some of your held beliefs about God that are more than likely false. This will bring you to a new and truer awareness of who you are and who God is…and that is where real growth happens.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who's the fairest of them all? Now the mirror can honestly respond, "Jesus is, and do you know what? He thinks your incredible."

Dei Gratia,