This morning I finished reading Parker Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening For the Voice of Vocation. I am not sure I found the voice of vocation. I am not even sure what Palmer means by vocation. What he was talking about, as I see it, is the emergence of the true self. I may have to glean it again.
I think that in the world at large, most people understand vocation to mean what one is to do with their life in long term way. Raised in the Catholic Church, I was taught that vocation means one’s “state in life” and there were only three options: religious, married and single. It was about permanent relationships, really. But as I’ve walked this life, I think the only thing that is permanent is the person one brings into the relationship. I know this because I have a memory that can bring me into an earlier version of this body when it was 3 or 4 years old. I have forgotten more than I remember, but there is a continuity nonetheless.
I also seem to have certain inclinations, insights, abilities and interests that are unique to me, at least in their combination and degree. My life experiences have shaped this raw material, but when I think about this raw material, there seems to be something of myself that is either pre-existent or pre-ordained, however you choose to explain it.
This combination of which I speak, I can step back and observe and even have an opinion or judgment about. My spiritual director would say that that observer is the real me. It is hard for me to get my brain around that. Another word for the observer is “consciousness”.
Anyway, Palmer’s book showed how inner trauma has a way of stripping away all that is not the true inner self until one is left with only the true self. One is left naked, in a sense, like the newborn babe. Whether you buy this explanation or not, it helps me to understand what my own life has been about. What has been especially helpful is that Palmer has given me a perspective about my own suffering and the suffering of those I love. The metaphor of giving birth is helpful and I am grateful to be a woman who has had the experience of giving physical birth. For birth to happen one must go through pain, and most women know that after the birth pain is soon forgotten, replaced by a love one did not imagine possible.
As I finish his book, I realize Palmer found that love after the pain he went through in his depression. He found the true self. He realized that his true self was always present no matter the external circumstances. He was always a teacher whether he was hired as one or not. What changed is that once he realized that his vocation was about who he was and not about what he did, he could be a teacher wherever he went. In addition, he could begin working with the real choices before him to use his gift in the fullest fashion he knew how.