At St. James, we are beginning a three session discussion of Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The heart of Palmer’s teaching is that vocation is rooted in identity: in the expression of authentic selfhood. What we do with our lives – if it is to be done with integrity – must be rooted in our nature, our unique gifts and limitations.
Vocation, then, comes from within. It requires us to listen to what our soul is saying to us. “Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.” (Palmer, p. 10)
Too often, we look outside ourselves for a sense of purpose or direction, as if vocation is a function of conforming to an abstract ideal or norm external to us. This is a recipe for frustration, resentment, and harm to self and others.
Palmer quotes May Sarton’s poem, Now I Become Myself:
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces . . .
Our lives can become a mask worn to please or placate others, or perhaps an imitation of a respected role model, but in any case another person’s face bearing little or no resemblance to our own visage.
I know I am often tempted to wear other people’s faces: especially the face of the prophet, the social justice advocate, the movement activist (an ideal or model I “ought” to emulate); or the face of the nonprofit manager, the community organizer, the institution builder (what I perceive others wanting me to be).
My own face appears when I am listening deeply to others in pastoral conversations or in the context of spiritual direction. My vocation is to help others to listen deeply to their own soul – and delighting with them in discovering the surprising things our soul sometimes is saying! It is in this attending to God with and on behalf of others in prayerful discernment that I find the greatest congruence between my being and my doing.
Whose face are you wearing? Who are you trying to be? Is the life you are living the life that wants to live in you? Join us as we explore these questions at St. James, July 17, 24, and 31 at 7 p.m.