“This book – this exploration of work, creativity, and caring in the world of action,” writes Parker J. Palmer, “is the result of my strange journey toward the knowledge that I’m not a monk… I value spontaneity more than predictability, exuberance more than order, inner freedom more than the authority of tradition, the challenge of dialogue more than the guidance of will, eccentricity more than staying on dead center.”
The Active Life is Palmer’s thoughtful and personal critique of the spiritual literature and practices that imply that Christian spirituality must involve a withdrawal from the world and from our own human vitalities. Palmer earnestly explored traditional Christian spiritualities based on monastic ideals and found them unsatisfying. His attempts to live in closed communities, adapting monastic practices to daily living, ultimately failed, in part because he was unable to deny the world or a life impelled to action and participation, a path that for him sustains a spirituality as vital as any other. As a result, Palmer has written a book that articulates a bracingly vital, down-to-earth spirituality for persons who live busy, active lives – at home or work, in the arts or politics, serving others or working for social change.
Palmer presents a spirituality for the uncelibate, unsolitary, and unsilent lives that most of us lead. Integrating contemplation with action, he defines a spirituality that “takes us down into the vitality and wisdom of our own experience, into the deep place where self and world and spirit intersect and transformation can begin.”
Using stories and poems from Chuang Tzu, Martin Buber, Jesus, and Julia Esquivel, the author constructs a detailed framework for an active-life spirituality. The Active Life is a celebration of both the joys and difficulties of work, creativity, and caring – the activities that make our world human and which also pose some of life’s hardest questions. Here is a spirituality that does not fear our activist energies but embraces, encourages, and channels them.
Parker J. Palmer is a speaker, writer, and workshop leader whose books include To Know As We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education, The Company of Strangers, and The Promise of Paradox. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.