Over the last few months, I’ve been reading Parker Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. I often read books quickly: skimming for ideas and thoughts that will stir creativity, capturing the big picture while discarding the rest.
A Hidden Wholeness has taken me over a year to get through (I actually found a coffee shop receipt from the day I started reading – July 8, 2013). It hasn’t taken me this long because the book is long or dense (it’s not) but because it’s deep and provocative.
Palmer’s premise rests on the idea that there is an undivided and integrated life within our grasp if only we make space to listen to and trust our soul. In contrast to life lived in wholeness and integration, Palmer speaks of the “lost ones:”
The lost ones [those who have become divided from their very soul/self] come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. (1)
Rather than listening to our soul – the voice within – we’ve been taught to deny, ignore, betray, silence, and withhold trust from that sacred space inside. And yet Palmer says “we can reclaim our lives only by choosing to live divided no more…a choice so daunting that we are unlikely to make it until our pain becomes unbearable, the pain that comes from denying or defying true self” (37).
In order to hear, listen, and trust our soul and move towards integration, an undivided life, Palmer suggests practices that can move us forward on this journey (none of which are quick, easy, cure-all gimmicks or sales pitches):
- Believing that within our soul resides a wise teacher.
- Finding community which allows us to speak and be heard, a space Palmer calls “being alone together.”
- Listening deeply and engaging creative exercise that further deepens our listening.
A few years ago I began some serious wrestling with the notion of original sin, and specifically the way that idea has shaped and formed the way I perceive my own value and worth. In this piece, I asked if we are children of God or children of the devil, and if there is a way we can be both? Here’s a snippet of that inner-dialogue, which gets to the heart of what Parker Palmer addresses in A Hidden Wholeness:
Are we born children of the devil? Utterly depraved. No good thing – no good thought! – can come from us. We are reprehensible monsters, not only capable but destined for evil. Our ancestors were created in God’s image, indeed, but that image has been so shattered and tattered that we dare not even think about it lest we find ourselves trapped in our overconfident arrogant state. There is nothing in us worth redeeming, making the grace of redemption nearly unbelievable.
Are we born children of God? Created as things of beauty, reflecting our creator’s own image. Unique amongst all creation with magnificent potential, bringing unmatched joy and satisfaction to God. Through no fault of our own as well as through terrible faults of our own, this image is distorted, faded, and shadowed. But, at our core, this image can still shine through, reminding us and others of the created glory and beauty of all humanity awaiting redemption. There is something in us worth redeeming, marked for redemption by the unmistakable grace of creation.
I’ve continued to ask these questions and wrestle with these ideas without coming away with a simple answer, but I’ve found deep hope in the asking and wrestling. And as I’ve come to appreciate, trust, and listen to my own soul – trusting my created-ness – I’ve found myself better attuned to listen and trust in the Creator and Jesus, the firstborn of Creation.
I’d be curious to hear from you:
(How) Do you care for your soul?
(How) Do you create space for your soul to be heard?
(How) Do you trust your own soul to speak truth?