I am on holiday so I’ve been thinking about life – as you do…
My thinking has been informed by two events. The first was a line from the film ‘The Way’, a film about the Camino de Santiago and about a spiritual pilgrimage taken by a man following the death of his son (a beautiful film and the Camino is now on my list of journeys to make).
At the beginning of the film father and son are having a conversation and the father cautions his son against taking time off from his Phd to travel the world. “What about your life, he asks? What kind of life are you choosing if you decide to do this?” to which the son answers, “You don’t choose a life, you live a life.”
You Don’t Choose a Life, You Live a Life …
Is this true? Did I choose a life of ministry or did ministry choose me? What kind of life am I living right now?
The second event was a dream …
I dreamt about a little girl, who was terminally ill and who was researching her illness on the internet. She was in her pink bedroom, surrounded by toy dogs all scattered on the floor. In the midst of the myriad of furry friends was one big, shaggy, LIVE dog. A real dog. The dog had a name, the name of one of my special friends and mentors, a friend who speaks sense and life into my life on an on-going basis – we had had coffee that same day.
Following this dream my mind of course jumped to questions such as where is my inner child diseased? Is it a positive thing for her to die and be reborn or is this a warning about neglect? The dogs are my instincts (as I often understand them to be), so where in my life are my instincts ‘real’ and ‘alive’ and where are they pretend, ‘toys’ – pretty and cute, but useless?
I then picked up a book by Parker J Palmer called ‘Let Your Life Speak – listening for the voice of vocation’. I do love the hand of synchronicity! Thank you Kevin …
The book deals with this very question, asking whether we are being true to ourselves and our vocations. The word ‘vocation’ is rooted in the Latin word for voice, in other words, vocation is ‘not a goal I pursue, it’s a calling that I hear’. And the question is are we living the lives we are called to live – for we are all called to a specific journey and a particular life depending on our birthright gifts. He writes …
‘A few years ago, my daughter and her newborn baby came to live with me for a while. Watching my granddaughter from her earliest days on earth, I was able, in my early fifties, to see something that had eluded me as a twenty something parent: my granddaughter arrived in the world as this kind of person rather than that or that or that… She did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, the shape of her own sacred soul. Biblical faith calls it the image of God in which we are all created. Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or that of God in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price… In those early days of my granddaughter’s life, I began observing the inclinations and proclivities that were planted in her at birth. I noticed and I still notice what she likes and what she dislikes, what she is drawn toward and repelled by, how she moves and what she does and what she says.’
Parker Palmer is writing her a letter in which he is detailing her true self, as he sees her of course, and he says when the time is right he will hand her the letter saying:
‘Here is a sketch of who you were from your earliest days in this world. It is not a definitive – only you can draw that. But it was sketched by a person who loves you very much. Perhaps these notes will help you do sooner something your grandfather did only later: remember who you were when you first arrived and reclaim the gift of true self.‘
We are who we are from the outset and our lives are lived with joy and peace if we honour who we are. ‘I came that you would have life’ says Jesus. I came so that you could learn how to be fully human and help others to be fully human too. This is what I understand part of my purpose to be, learning about and encouraging wholeness in self and others.
It would seem my true self is not feeling so well, so whole, she thinks she is dying – I still have more questions than I have answers on what this might mean at this point, but I have some markers, I have some pointers …
We may not choose which life we live, but we do get to choose how well we live that life. Our choices are important if we are to follow an inner voice of guidance. If my little girl is feeling poorly and her instincts are not as sharp as they can be, I know how to remedy this because I have some understanding of my true self. My true self grows strong in silence and in solitude and so I need to make some time to reconnect to God and to life through this practice. If I am disconnected from life, I will make disconnected choices and disconnected choices, if ignored, can lead us down the path of a disconnected life.
I have lived a disconnected life before this and I do not wish to do so again.
I am on holiday, the perfect time to reconnect. To let go of other peoples expectations and demands and let my little girl live a little so that she too can reconnect and get well. Her big shaggy dog has told her she still has hope of a life of instinct and I have people who can help me listen and make sense of what is going inside.
You don’t choose a life, you live a life, yes. The key is to choose to live it well, live it truthfully, live it authentically – it is in this way that we honour our Maker and we honour the world in which we have been placed.
Palmer quotes Rumi with these words: ‘if you are here unfaithfully with us, you are causing terrible damage’. Ring-a-ding-ding.
If we are unfaithful to the true self – the people we are created to be – we cause harm not only to that self but to the others with whom we connect and so I choose to live the life I have been called to live, well and with integrity and for that to happen, I have to listen to a little person who tells me to take some time out, take some time to listen and to take some time to learn about her specific ailment – Who am I to ignore her?