Monday, October 31, 2011

A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life

by Parker J. Palmer
San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2004
208 pages    Spiritual

Although I have heard the name of Parker Palmer, I have never read one of his books. A Hidden Wholeness appeared in a pile of church library books, and I was affirmed and transformed as I read it.

First, if you don’t already know, I am a facilitator for Companions in Christ, which is a small group spiritual growth experience that we have at our church and the United Methodist Church. As I read A Hidden Wholeness, I realized that Companions in Christ has utilized the ideas of Parker Palmer, who is a Quaker, in their curriculum planning, for many of his techniques have been integrated in the coursework.

He discusses four themes: the shape of an integral life, the meaning of community, teaching and learning for transformation, and nonviolent social change. The major section concerns teaching and learning for transformation, which is the portion that helped me understand why we teach Companions in Christ as we do. I will not speak to that portion in this posting. I would like to dwell a bit on his first section—the shape of an integral life.

Palmer suggests that as adults we lose the integrity of our childhood; we compromise it as we try to deal with the world, to make a living, to be in relationship, and to find a community.  Palmer says: “We arrive in this world undivided, integral, whole. But sooner or later, we erect a wall between our inner and outer lives, trying to protect what is within us or to deceive the people around us. Only when the pain of our dividedness becomes more than we can bear do most of us embark on an inner journey toward living “divided no more.”

I was intrigued to read about Bernie Madoff’s soul journey now that he is in prison for bilking his clients out of more than a billion dollars. He told interviewers that now that he is in prison he doesn’t need to be afraid any more, and he can be his more authentic self. Will he ever get over his guilt? Probably not, but he can now find some peace. Palmer would suggest that in aging we can “strip away whatever is not truly us.” He would also suggest that regaining our souls is our life’s task.He indicates that we are born with our selfhood and our uniqueness (our spiritual DNA, so to speak) and our life’s work is to be true to that uniqueness, but if we lose it, our task is to find it again.

Palmer feels that it is in a soul community that individuals can find themselves again. He offers guidelines for how such a community should structure itself and how individuals who are seeking to find a path toward wholeness can find peace in such a group. He is quick to say that this is not therapy or group counseling. My experience has been exactly this: in a group of like-minded souls, where everyone is searching, sharing comes easily after a time, and individuals can find a peaceful place where each can grow. Age is not a determinant; growth can come to the woman in her early 20s and the man facing death in his 80s. 

Palmer closes A Hidden Wholeness with these thoughts: “The soul is generous: it takes in the needs of the world. The soul is wise: it suffers without shutting down. The soul is hopeful: it engages the world in ways that keep opening our hearts. The soul is creative: it finds a path between realities that might defeat us and fantasies that are mere escapes.”

From my own experience, I know that on the days I am the most frazzled, I am the least in touch with my soul. Frankly, that’s most of the time lately. This book reminded me once again that I am only whole when I remain in contact with my center—God in my life.

Parker Palmer’s most famous books are The Courage to Teach and Let Your Life Speak. His foundation is called the Center for Courage and Renewal.

Here is an interview on Bill Moyer’s Journal in 2009:


PJP said...

Thanks so much for your generous review of "A Hidden Wholeness." I'm grateful to you for letting me know that your experience of these things somehow resonates with mine. As a way of saying thanks, I'd like to send you a copy of my new book, "Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit." I love what you said in your profile: "I am liberal to the core but married to a life-long Republican. We are great together except during political campaigns." Maybe this new book will make the next campaign a little easier at home! You can contact me at -- all I need is a UPS street address. Thanks again, Parker Palmer

Anonymous said...

I love reading Palmer's book "The Hidden Wholeness", I haven't complete it yet, but the pages I had read so far are interesting. He is so right to have said that we need to be ourselves by being whole.