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#946 Parker Palmer offers a rope to souls caught in a blizzard

Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer; photo from his Facebook page

Parker J. Palmer’s interview with Alicia von Stamwitz came onto my Facebook timeline and went straight into my heart. The night before, I had explained to friends that I began this blog when I felt the hopelessness of daily news sinking into my bones. I decided if I wanted to see the world in a brighter light, I had to start with myself. I had to make hope a habit.

Von Stamwitz interviewed Palmer about the book he had just published, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. When she asked about the genesis of the book, he told her:

I started writing it in 2004 or 2005 because I was in a psychological hole. I was in a lot of despair myself about what was happening in our country, about our inability to talk to each other, about democracy going down the tubes. And it was actually a period of depression for me. Part of my journey involves three major experiences with clinical depression, and one of the things I learned in my previous bouts was that if you get a little bit of energy, you have to do something proactive related to what’s causing the depression. Becoming proactive can be therapeutic, can be life-giving. So I started writing this book. I basically argue that what we call the politics of rage [in the United States], if you look at it more deeply, is in fact the politics of the brokenhearted. I believe that there’s heartbreak across the political spectrum, all the way to the radical ends.

I read the interview just after another shooting spree in the U.S., this time in a Maryland shopping mall. Parker told von Stamwitz violence is the result of people not knowing what to do with their suffering. He said nations do that too, as America did, and continues to do, after 9/11, manipulating fear to justify more violence. We see the same phenomenon on large and small scales, all around the globe.

Yet here I am claiming that hope is not only not a luxury, it is a necessity. Now Parker has given me a new metaphor for my belief. In his book, A Hidden Wholeness, Palmer describes our despair in the storm of violence, environmental degradation or economic injustice as being lost in a blizzard, fearing we have irretrievably lost our way. Then he adds a lifeline:

But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.

This book is about tying a rope from the back door out to the barn so that we can find our way home again. When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world—in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life—as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

I like that image. The metaphor perfectly describes what this blog has become for me—a rope to the barn door of hope, so that no matter what may happen in my life or around me, I know I can find my way home again.

If you awaken to bad news, if life feels out of control, if you are lost in the storm, stop by here any day. Grab hold of the rope of hope at any point. Hang onto it, and feel your way back home.

You can follow Parker J. Palmer on Facebook and the Center for Courage & Renewal on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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nechakotess - February 17, 2014

Oh Cathryn – how powerful and wise. I am so tired of being told my optimism is foolishness as if negativity has the only hold on truth. I have clung to Gandhi’s words: It is not important what you do; what is important is that you do it. The profound belief that the change I want to see in the world may never come in my life time but it will never come at all if I give up. thank you so for this, for your blogs, for your very presence all a reminder of the good that can be that we must find and nourish, even in the midst of the raging storm.

    Cathryn Wellner - February 17, 2014

    Dear Tess, Your fierce belief in what is good and right in people, organizations and communities has inspired me since we first met. You have influenced my life in ways that make me forever grateful. And the inspiration of you and Wendy, who share such deep and joyous love, will guide me all my days. Thank you for all you are and all you do in the world. Your grandchildren are growing up with the best possible model for walking in the world.

Denise Brownlie - February 18, 2014

“The rope leading to safety in a white-out blizzard” : a best-ever metaphor. I immediately ordered “A Hidden Wholeness” as an e-book, to read on those (too frequent) days when safety ropes are essential. Thank you!

    Cathryn Wellner - February 19, 2014

    A light shines out from deep within Parker J. Palmer, and it comes through in his books. I hope this one brings that rope into your spirit on the hard days.

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