Wisdom of the Heart

When I consider our theme for April – wisdom – I think of the many teachers who have influenced me.  Last summer I had the good fortune to attend a retreat co-led by Quaker author, educator, and activist Parker J. Palmer. 

Palmer thinks deeply about spirituality, relationship, and meaning-making as essential community-building and life-giving skills.   In the past decade he turned his keen mind to analyze the decay of democracy in America in his latest book: 

Healing the Heart of Democracy:

The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit 

by Parker J. Palmer


In analyzing the breakdown of American political civil discourse, Palmer invokes Abraham Lincoln, calling us to heed the ‘better angels of our nature’ by becoming more intentional citizens.  “Citizenship is a way of being in the world rooted in the knowledge that I am a member of a vast community of human and nonhuman beings that  I depend on for essentials I could never provide for myself.”  To transform our communities, he urges us to establish ‘habits of the heart’ and learning to really listen to one another as the path to hopeful and meaningful transformation.  Palmer writes: “we live in a tragic gap -- a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be. It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed. If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility.”

Canadian readers may be deterred by the U.S. focus of the book, but its lessons transcend the history lessons and political context.   Other books by Parker Palmer I recommend are A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, The Courage to Teach, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.