Thursday, May 27, 2010

Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak

Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak came at an interesting time for me. The group with which I was reading the book was focused primarily on vocational discernment, but I found a great light and hope in another focus of the book.

Palmer writes of a spiritual journey that takes him from one perceived “correct” place to a vocational home. He writes honestly and openly about the struggles he went through on his journey and includes a moving and important chapter on depression.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression. At the time I read this chapter, I felt bombarded with messages from friends, from the church, and from media that my depression was a result of a lack of spiritual depth, or that it resulted as a larger part of a spiritual battle. Perhaps I was lazy, or unmotivated. Maybe I just needed someone to talk to (despite the fact that I could barely put into words my feelings). No one, save a few people, seemed to understand that these explanations, these attempts to “justify” my depression, served only to isolate and erase me. They built up the helpful souls saying them, but they were in no way meant as a true attempt to be in solidarity with me – to express love and support without a need for reasons why.

Palmer’s chapter on his battles with depression explores this feeling of isolation. He speaks of the pain, physical and emotional, that comes with isolation. His writing affirmed what I already felt: dealing with an individual’s depression exclusively as a symptom of something larger rather than as a place where that individual needs support defeats any purpose. But how do we support depressed people?

Palmer writes of a friend who came to visit him, who sat with him, washed his feet, and simply loved him. The friend understood that he could not enter the place where Palmer was, nor could he pull Palmer out of that place. So, he stood on the edge, and loved actively and quietly.

Palmer’s journey through depression was, he says, largely an issue of spiritual direction, but he acknowledges that he was only able to define the issues surrounding his depression after he had begun to leave it. As in most other “seasons” (Palmer’s term) of life, you cannot really identify where your journey is taking you until you have completed that piece of the journey. And to expect someone who may be incapable of hearing the divine or even the ordinary through their own pain to be able to shape their way out with great action is, simply, ridiculous. As Palmer knows, and many others understand, depression has a myriad of causes, and each of these causes may require a different approach for healing.  Casual bystanders cannot “treat” the depression because the cause, the need, the source of the pain is not clear – love and support are needed, perhaps a gentle encouragement to seek trained help of a medical, emotional or spiritual nature.

I can’t say that I gained a great deal of vocational confidence from Palmer’s book. I appreciated his idea that vocation may not be a matter of dramatic call, but of personal wholeness. But really, the greatest thing about Let Your Life Speak was the affirmation that I was just fine, that it was okay to ignore a world that was demanding I know things I could not possibly know.

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