The Fraudulent Life
Occasionally I either choose or have to return to a book I read some years ago. That is usually a good experience. One of the depressing things for me is to realize I cannot remember everything I read! I suppose that has always been true, but somehow I am more aware of it now. So it is usually the case that when I reread certain parts of good books, I feel the thrill of learning all over again. And that is a good thing!
So I returned to one of my favorite authors, friend, and fellow-Quaker, Parker Palmer. I wanted to look at some sections in his book, A Hidden Wholeness. I used this book once in the group I lead, which we call Soul Work. I liked it then and I rediscovered it to my liking one more time.
I also like it when books have subtitles. Often they are more revealing than the main title. Palmer’s book has a great, revealing subtitle: Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World. As Quakers would say, “that speaks to my condition.” In other words that makes perfect sense to me!
In order to achieve the wholeness that Parker Palmer talks about, we need to find some integrity in our lives. For many of us that integrity---that wholeness---is already present. It is simply “hidden.” But it is not a simple thing to find it. In fact, we may have to take action which will feel more like “creating” wholeness than “finding” it. We create it by means of re-shaping the context in which we live. To re-shape the context means we will necessarily re-shape the way we live.
Many of us probably are not living a life of wholeness because we are living what Palmer calls, “the divided life.” We may have a gut feeling that this is true, but sometimes it is difficult to put into words what this really means. If we can figure this out, then maybe we can find the path to the hidden wholeness. To put it in theological language, maybe we can begin the pilgrimage to salvation. (Salvation is really a Latin word that means wholeness or wellness.)
Palmer talks about the costs of the divided life. And he gives some examples, which resonated with me. For example, he says that the persons living the divided life can “sense that something is missing in our lives and search the world for it, not understanding that what is missing is us.” The next one is the one that knocked my socks off. Palmer notes that sometimes “We feel fraudulent, even invisible, because we are not in the world as who we really are.” This one made me wince!
Often the divided self that we are appears in a dual way. By ourselves---alone---we may have some sense of who we really are. But when we go public, we are not our true self. We play some role or, perhaps, multiple roles. American culture is very good at defining people according to roles. I am a parent, a professor, a secretary and on and on. Who we are is determined by what we do.
Sometimes money follows roles. We don’t pay teachers what the lawyers make. And the list goes on. Looking at what we do and who we are can determine our value. You make more than I do, so you must be more valuable than I am!
Given this, how on earth do we welcome the soul and weave community? Of course, that is not an easy question to answer. But I agree with Parker Palmer that what was just described indicates a wounded world. And it is in that world that the soul must be welcomed and community must be woven.
The antidote to the divided self is to discover and develop our true self. This true self is our soul and that is the “me’ that is central to community formation and nurture. There are myriad ways we could suggest that we approach the soul work needed to give up the divided self. Let me choose one that Parker Palmer offers, especially as it has to do with people who are too busy in life. Too often schedule dictates life.
Palmer tells us “There are three keys to creating a schedule that welcomes the soul: slow down, do more with less, and pay attention to rhythm.” I like all three of these and can immediately see their relevance for my life. And I realize I really don’t need any more “answers” or “suggestions” in the moment. If I could just work on one of these---or perhaps, dabble with all three---then I am sure I would begin to sense that I was more soulful.
If I were to pick off the most important one for me in the moment, it would be to pay attention to rhythm. What is my daily rhythm? How is it soulful? Or is it soul destructive? Those are serious questions that I normally would never take the time to ask nor ponder.
How could I alter my rhythm to enable me to become more soulful? Altering something does not always mean adding! Perhaps I need to subtract? Or switch? Can I add something to my rhythm that enhances the growth of soul? No doubt, the answer is yes. Maybe I could begin a short period of meditation or a devotional. I do some of this, but sometimes it is more haphazard than rhythmic.
What could you begin to do?