Attentiveness

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photo at pixabay

This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness

Mary Oliver
cited by Parker J Palmer,
Quaker elder and columnist for
On Beinghere

What would the world feel like tomorrow morning if broadcast ‘world news’ tonight was comprised of just the one piece of Wisdom Mary Oliver notes here?

No advice, no opinions, no looking to leaders of any kind, nor any seeking to lead or be led. Just every single person in the world watching quietly, without reaction, and with benign interest, the stream of soul-destroying thoughts ticker-taping inside their own head. And letting them go.

What would the world feel like tomorrow morning if there was a complete absence of noise – noise replaced with no thing other than focused attentiveness, however brief?

Could we laugh at ourselves and our shifting certainties? Could we put to one side our politics and religions, our tribes and education, our perceptions of culture and dominions – even for a little space? Would we yearn to return soon to the stillness and silence of such a soul-building place?

In the morning and at afternoon and evening: let it begin, again, with me.

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At the base of a tree

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A friend has just acquired a book I’ve loved for a long time and – as is the way with such things – her interest in it has me turning the pages of my copy, years after the first of my many readings of it. And I have entranced all over again. Quaker, Palmer J Palmer always hits the spot for me.

The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek …

… And I hope that the reader who sits with this book can hear the silence that always surrounds us in the writing and reading of words. It is a silence that forever invites us to fathom the meaning of our lives – and forever reminds us of depths of meaning that words will never touch.

Parker J Palmer
Let Your Life Speak

Gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful

Many people have favoured books they return to again and again. Gerald May’s The Wisdom of Wilderness, 2006is one of mine. Sometimes it just jumps off the bookcase next to my fireside chair. And each reading offers new love and new light.

This evening I’m resting in some words from Parker J Palmer’s Foreword to the book:

Jerry’s last words were spoken to his daughter, Julie, but they could have been spoken to any and all of us: “Trust in Love, Trust in God.”

With Jerry May’s death, we have suffered a great loss. With this book – forged in his living and refined in the crucible of his dying – we have received a great gift. I think Jerry would say that painful but promising paradoxes such as this are at the heart of the wilderness experience, and of the wisdom traditions that have merged from our encounters with wilderness, both inner and outer. I think Jerry would urge us to go beyond our simple-minded dualism about death and life, to see into – and live into – the wild unity of it all.

Jerry opened his now-classic Will and Spirit with these words: “We all have secrets in our hearts. I will tell you one of mine. All my life I have longed to say yes, to give myself completely, to some Ultimate Someone or Something.”

I believe that Jerry’s longing has been fulfilled. Thanks to this gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful man, our stores of significant thought, authentic prayer, and shake-the-rafters laughter have been replenished, on earth as they now are in heaven.

Parker J Palmer
Foreword to Gerald G May
The Wisdom of Wilderness

We’re living, in many parts of the world in 2016, in bewildering and turbulent times. Few of us, if any, have much faith in politicians assuring us of their ability to “make us the greatest …” Many more of us are turned off by such language. How, for heaven’s sake, could we measure what being “the greatest” would look like anyway? By whose definition?

In the midst of the world’s clamour Gerald May’s words resonate still: “Trust in Love. Trust in God.” Simple “last words” that led into new beginnings – for Jerry, for Parker Palmer, and for innumerable readers of his wilderness experiences. What would I give, what would any of us give, to be able to imagine that maybe, some day, some blessed friend or loved one might truly be able to speak of us as gentle, wild, bright, and beautiful – ?

Encounter

We enjoyed a wonderful supper last evening with hosting friends who are two of the most delightful and engaging people on planet earth. Evolving needs for meaningful, respectful encounter between the diverse peoples and traditions of our own present-day society, and in the wider world too, were amongst many things discussed.

Peace-loving Quaker Parker Palmer’s words, it struck me whilst driving home, rather perfectly summed up the heart of shared aspirations.

We will find the common ground of public life not by
destroying our particularity but by pursuing it,
pursuing it to the depths where we encounter the
ground of being which gave rise to and sustains us all

Parker J Palmer
quoted in Living the Questions,
Essays inspired by the Work and Life
of Parker J Palmer
edited by Sam Intrator

Communion beyond words

Parker J Palmer, renowned author, Quaker elder and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a weekly columnist at On Being. He writes

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

That’s what poetry has been and is for me, both writing – words on breath or page: “Let there be light, and there was light” – and communion beyond words. A special “other” kind of encounter with an other – and the air between us, and the space between lines and stanzas, facilitating ongoing co-creation. Heart touches heart and consequent co-creation gives heart. This is, indeed, what Parker Palmer has called A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue This is a coming to us, an advent.

Quakers and poets alike value words so much that they’re used precisely, and with care, and sparingly – because something else they share is a profound appreciation for Creation continually evolving, brought forth from the contours, depths and shapes of silence, from the space between lines, from communion beyond words.

The poetic spirit puts all forms of fundamentalist literalism to flight, calling forth life in acts of co-creation and co-operation, here and unto all eternity. Poets invite us to take little or no notice of words unless we mean also to breathe and to think deeply in the deliberate spaces in-between, for, to quote from Louis MacNeice’s Mutations

… every static world that you or I impose
Upon the real one must crack at times and new
Patterns from new disorders open like a rose
And old assumptions yield to new sensation;
The Stranger in the wings is waiting for his cue,
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation.